A Message from the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Posted on Updated on

MHS Colleagues,

October always feels like the beginning of a New Year to me, maybe because schools are back in full swing, or because it’s the start of a new fiscal year. In any event, Happy New Year – it promises to be a year full of opportunities and challenges, both known and unknown. I’m confident that we are prepared to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities.

Last month, I had the honor of addressing the Military Health System Research Symposium and it was great to see so many people I’ve known since the organization was called ATAAC, we met at St. Pete Beach, and the uniform of the day was parrot shirts and flip flops. On a more serious note, it was truly inspiring to engage with the scientists and researchers who have contributed so much to our Military Health System, and to the health of the nation. 

The fact that we were able to gather in person for the first time in three years was due in large part to the foundational science and cutting edge research done by the military medical community that enabled the accelerated development of the COVID-19 vaccine. This research, conducted over decades, does not get the credit it deserves, and I’d like to remedy that, starting with my personal “thank-you.”

Women’s health care is a continuing emphasis for us and one of our research goals is to focus more on the gender and sex differences in disease and medical conditions. Investing in research aimed at those who need access to women’s health care will improve readiness across the Force and positively affect recruitment and retention, while improving the overall health of Servicewomen. Gender health equity is a focus of the Department’s research agenda, as part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Focusing on women’s health is appropriate this time of the year, as we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Though breast cancer affects men too, more than 99% of those diagnosed with breast cancer are women. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 300,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year, and we lose about 42,000 patients to this disease annually. We know that early detection is key to surviving breast cancer, and I encourage our beneficiaries to learn about and practice breast self-exams, and to access provided services for screening and breast health. The National Cancer Institute recommends monthly breast self-exams and annual mammograms starting at age 40. Women with risk factors including family history, genetic predisposition, reproductive factors and others may be screened at a younger age and more often. Information on TRICARE-covered services can be found here: https://tricare.mil/CoveredServices/IsItCovered/Mammograms%20#NationalMammographyDay

Finally, as we examine the issue of pain management across the MHS this month, I’d like to recognize the important work providers in our system have done to meet the pain management needs of our beneficiaries while guarding against the risks pain medication can pose. The MHS has shown a significant decline in the number of opioid prescriptions written as a primary tool for pain management. This is good news, but should be understood in the context of our larger effort to improve the quality of pain management overall and the integration of non-pharmacological approaches. Our work in this area provides a model for our federal partners, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for civilian health care teams in the effort to address opioid addiction while providing appropriate pain relief for patients.

I hope you all will enjoy the beauty of the fall season, and stay safe and healthy.


Seileen M. Mullen

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s