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Air Force surgeon general testifies on four health effects

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 10, 2005) -- The Air Force surgeon general spoke before Congress on March 3 on the state of medical care for servicemembers serving in the war on terrorism.

Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. (Dr.) George Peach Taylor Jr. told members of the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on military personnel that the Air Force has done an exceptional job throughout operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom of providing health care to Airmen and members of its sister services.

"We attribute our success to our focus on four health effects, which are providing care to casualties, ensuring a fit and healthy force, preventing illness and injury, and enhancing human performance," Dr. Taylor said.

Dr. Taylor told legislators the Air Force's mobile expeditionary medical support units have been the linchpin of the ground mission to care for military casualties, and air transport teams have made great strides in reducing the time it takes to return casualties back to the United States for advanced medical care.

"We now have more than 600 medics in 10 deployed locations, (including) a large theater hospital in Balad, Iraq, and two smaller hospitals in Kirkuk and Bagdhad International Airport," he said. "Just as in the States, these serve as regional medical facilities for all services. Our critical care air transport teams have made possible an astonishing turn-around time as short as 36 hours from the battleground to stateside medical care -- unheard of even a decade ago."

Part of the Air Force's commitment to Airmenís health is ensuring they are healthy and fit to fight before they deploy, while on deployment and upon their return home, Dr. Taylor said.

In submitted testimony, the doctor told legislators the Air Force's annual preventative health assessments ensure each Airman is fit before he or she deploys. And when Airmen arrive in theater, he said, their health is tracked by the service's preventative medicine teams.

"(They) identify, assess, control and counter the full spectrum of existing health threats and hazards, greatly enhancing our ability to prevent illness and injury," he said.

Air Force officials also ensure Airmen come home healthy, with a post-deployment screening for each one, Dr. Taylor said.

"During the post-deployment process, we ensure that each returning individual has a face-to-face health assessment with a trained health-care provider," he said.

Air Force officials have conducted nearly 100,000 post-deployment screenings since January 2003. Of those assessments, Dr. Taylor said less than 10 percent required follow-up referrals for medical or dental health concerns.

Dr. Taylor also told legislators Air Force officials are using cutting-edge research and development to find ways to improve safety for deployed Airmen and to enhance their warfighting performance.

Air Force officials are working on converting common tap or surface water into intravenous solutions in the field and producing medical-grade oxygen on site, so heavy oxygen cylinders do not need to be transported, surgeon general officials said.

Additionally, they are working to create vision devices that allow Airmen to see to the theoretical limit of the human eye. If successful, they said, it will provide pilots and warriors with the ability to see twice as far as an adversary.