Transformative changes under way for military medicine
Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences President Dr. Richard W. Thomas, MD, DDS, speaks during the 100th American Legion National Convention in Minneapolis, Minn., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. Photo by Schelly Stone/The American Legion.

Transformative changes under way for military medicine

The American Legion “plays an essential role” in military medicine and service, said Richard Thomas, president of Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

“You help us connect to your members, you provide valuable information to beneficiaries and you help us stay connected to those beneficiaries with their concerns,” Thomas said Aug. 29 at the Legion’s 100th national convention in Minneapolis. “Your voice is powerful and it is incredibly helpful as we work to constantly improve not only the access to health care but the quality of health care that we provide to the best patients in the world.”

Thomas said that this is an era of significant change in military medicine, then noted a series of ongoing initiatives such as new dental and vision coverage, the electronic health record system, the TRICARE revamp, and the management of clinics and hospitals worldwide.

“Any one of these changes by themselves would be huge, but when you put them together, these are the most comprehensive changes I’ve seen in my time,” said Thomas, who retired as a major general after 26 years in the Army. “The days ahead will be challenging. But our goal remains the same: to enhance the quality of care and the access to care for all of our beneficiaries.”

He asked for the Legion’s help in communicating these changes to its members, as well as its continued advocacy. But he acknowledged that his agency is little known.

“We are the health care academy for the Department of Defense,” Thomas explained. “Think of us as the medical equivalent of the service academy at Annapolis or Colorado Springs or West Point. We provide a core group of medical care professionals to the DoD and a few to public health service.”

Thomas said the electronic health record’s “technology platform is already readily available commercially to thousands of hospitals around the world.”

When implemented it will allow people to become more involved in their health care and give health-care providers more information to take care of patients, said Thomas, who has a doctorate in dental surgery and a medical degree from West Virginia University. “The new electronic health record will ensure that you will have one record that follows you around whether you are on the battlefield or back at your community clinic at home,” he said.

Thomas also said:

• This fall, TRICARE will hold its first open enrollment period. “This annual season will allow you to make changes to your plan for the following year.”

• New dental and vision coverage will roll out in 2019, “offering access to the federal employees’ coverage for the first time.” It will replace the TRICARE dental coverage, and “provide many more options for you.”

A self-proclaimed “Army brat,” Thomas has a long military history.

His father is a retired sergeant major and his grandfather was a World War I veteran. A third-generation member of The American Legion, Thomas said one of his earliest memories was going to a Legion post with his father in Okinawa.

“I have been privileged since then to be in other American Legion posts around the world, sharing some adult beverages, solving the world’s problems and having great conversations with people like you,” he said.

Thomas congratulated The American Legion on its first century of service.

“Thank you for 100 years of accomplishments and embracing the cause on behalf of America’s veterans.”