Chairwoman Mikulski Focused On Ensuring American Troops & Their Families Have Reliable Access To Best Health Care Programs

Date: April 10, 2014

Contact: Vince Morris (202) 224-1010

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today attended a hearing of the Defense Subcommittee to discuss military health. Chairwoman Mikulski’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

“Thank you, Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Cochran for your leadership on this subcommittee and here in the Senate. You all did so much to help us successfully pass the Omnibus earlier this year. I am confident we will have good results again this year with the FY 2015 budget.

“Today we’re here to talk about the health care of our military. But I want to start by talking about the shooting earlier this month at Fort Hood military base. It left three innocent people dead and 16 people injured at the hands of someone who had allegedly been struggling with mental health issues.

“This tragedy has once again focused national attention on our military’s mental health system – just like the 2009 Fort Hood shooting that left 13 people dead and 30 more injured.

“Despite some improvement efforts our military has struggled to address a number of psychological problems brought on by more than a decade of war. Mounting troop suicides, psychological disorders among returning soldiers, high-profile violent incidents on military bases - we have a lot to talk about.

“I look forward to hearing from our Surgeon Generals so we can understand the steps they’re taking to improve our military mental health system.

“I want to hear about the challenges they face – and we need to hear what they need from Congress to help all our military families cope with the impact of war and service.

“Now, we can all agree upon a commitment to our troops - to improving the health of military families. But the core of our military is not just weapons but people.

“That’s why I am focused on making sure these troops have reliable access to the greatest health care in the world.

“What that means is ensuring that troops injured in battle are given the best care. It also means that wounded warriors are provided with the very best follow up care and treatment. That’s why I am focused on making sure our troops and their families have access to greatest health care in world.

“Access to great health care means ensuring troops injured in battle get immediate and effective care. It means ensuring wounded warriors are provided with the very best follow-up care, treatment and support when they return home. It means ensuring that those working on our military bases have access to reliable care and communities that keep them healthy and happy. It means ensuring returning servicemen and women have support services necessary to get, or keep, them healthy as they cope with post-traumatic stress or other conditions. It means ensuring family members have support services they need to help their loved ones heal, and to heal themselves and their families.

“The very best health care involves cutting edge medical treatments, but it also involves all the support systems and community health efforts that help people get or stay healthy.

“We are all aware of very serious medical challenges facing the military today - post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, amputations and serious trauma from IEDs, prescription drug abuse. But the military faces other very serious health challenges that often go unrecognized and unpublicized. Obesity costs the military $1.6 billion a year. Tobacco use also costs the military $1.6 billion a year. In order to tackle all these health challenges - from post-traumatic stress, to obesity, to prescription drug abuse—we must do more to create environments that encourage our military members and families to be healthy.

“That’s why I’m encouraged when the Department of Defense undertakes initiatives like Total Force Fitness and Healthy Base Initiative. These Department of Defense-wide initiatives recognize that a person’s physical health is directly related to their mental wellness and is directly related to their jobs and families. If we want to reduce obesity in military we can’t just tell people to eat better and exercise more. We have to meet people where they are. We need to have dining facilities on bases serving food that is nutritious and delicious. We need to have commissaries and farmers markets providing fresh fruit and produce at reasonable prices. We need to do a better job of encouraging active living, bike paths and parks, gyms and classes with different exercise options, whether you like yoga or lifting weights. Instead, we have too many bases where the only food options are fast-food or vending machines, or dining halls that serve liver and onions.

“If we want to reduce smoking in military we have to look at the problem more broadly than just diagnosing a nicotine addiction and putting people on the patch. While that may work for some people it won’t work for everyone. We need to look at what may drive people to smoke - job or family stresses, unhappiness or dissatisfaction. We need to look at fact that cigarettes are five percent cheaper on military bases than they are off bases. We, the Department of Defense and all federal health programs need to think more broadly about how to really improve overall health of our nation, and that’s where Healthy Base Initiative comes into play.

“I am so pleased Department of Defense launched the Healthy Base Initiative and very proud to have Fort Meade included. Department of Defense is working with 14 military installations to improve military health and well-being through a prevention-oriented approach. Each base will design this program to fit its individual needs, but I know that all 14 installations are looking to bring healthier food options to bases. The US Department of Agriculture is helping with farmer’s markets. The Culinary Institute of America and Sam Kass are helping with healthy and tasty foods. Local school districts are getting involved, making sure kids start good eating behaviors early. I am very encouraged by what I’ve seen so far, and I really look forward to hearing the Department of Defense plan, vision and timeframe for Healthy Base and Total Force Fitness.

“Those who bravely choose to serve their country deserve the very best health care available, and those of us in charge of the federal checkbook must keep an eye on skyrocketing health costs and come up with solutions that improve health and reduce costs. I believe Healthy Base is a good first step.�