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Official notes health system's 'amazing' impact

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. -- The Defense Department's Military Health System has never played a clearer or more important role in the security of the nation, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs said Jan. 25.

"I'm very, very proud of the great strides we all have made to date," Ellen P. Embrey told an audience of more than 3,000 military and civilian medical professionals at the 2010 Military Health System Conference at the National Harbor here.

Ms. Embrey cited the medical achievements that have resulted in the highest wartime survival rate in history. Wounded servicemembers receive state-of-the-art treatment and equipment within the first hour of injury, she told the group, with many transported back to the United States within 48 hours.

"That is what has made all the difference," she said, noting the importance of the physicians and other team members at their side.

Of the servicemembers wounded in action, 54 percent return to duty within 72 hours, which Ms. Embrey termed "pretty amazing." The military also is experiencing the lowest disease and nonbattle injury rates ever reported, she said, citing rates of 5 percent for Afghanistan and 4 percent for Iraq.

"And we have a battlefield survival rate that now stands at 97 percent, the highest of all wars in U.S. history," she said. "Quite an accomplishment considering the lethality of our enemies."

Ms. Embrey noted a few of the medical advances that have made a difference both on the battlefield and off. Since 2001, she said, remarkable progress has been made in prosthetics, implants, hand and limb transplantation, skin therapies and other areas of regenerative medicine.

Further advancements have been made in bandages to stop bleeding, drugs to treat or prevent chronic pain, robotic support for telesurgeries, cranial reconstructions, and the detection and treatment of traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, she added.

"In research and development, military medicine is yielding transformational advances that will not only improve the lives and health of our servicemembers, but ultimately, all Americans," she said.

This research includes many diseases unrelated to warfare, including lung, breast, prostate and ovarian cancers, and autism spectrum disorder.

Ms. Embrey credited medical professionals serving around the world for the groundbreaking achievements in military medicine and patient care.

"These are the kinds of results that you and your colleagues at home are delivering today and every day," she told the conference attendees. "Keeping our forces fit and ready for the fight, caring for them on the field and off, helping to develop health care capabilities for other nations and helping provide humanitarian disaster relief and stabilization operations across the globe, and of late, here in our part of the world, down in Haiti."