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

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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:

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

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

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In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to acknowledge the tremendous contributions of Black Americans to the Department, the MHS—and all of medical science. In many ways, they make our readiness mission possible.

Much of what we do every day is owed to these great Americans. Black clinicians, scientists, and health care leaders are responsible for countless medical innovations and advancements in care.

Pioneers like Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, III were among the first to successfully perform open heart surgery. Dr. Jane Cooke Wright led groundbreaking chemotherapy research and was a founding member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.  Civil rights leader Dr. William G. Anderson worked to improve the health and wellbeing of Black communities, becoming the first Black president of the American Osteopathic Association.

Of course, these are just a few of the truly transformative legacies that have impacted generations to come. I’d encourage you to take a moment to look up and read about even more. Beyond our work, their examples of serving the whole offer so much more to look back on, reflect—and aspire to.

It’s why the MHS makes diversity and inclusion such a priority. We’re simply stronger as an enterprise when we engage and have the perspectives of all people. We not only benefit from an endless pool of talent and experience, but we gain a better understanding of the people and communities we serve.

These values also underscore our focus on access to care. As a nation, this is an area where we continue to struggle. Far too many of us are either uninsured or lack access altogether, leading to wider disparities, and avoidable illness and death. While not perfect, according to some studies, the direct care system sees fewer disparities and better outcomes for people of color than in the civilian health sector. We need to continue to close those gaps and make it part of our DNA. We understand scale, diversity, and the importance of reaching our beneficiaries, whoever they are and wherever they are in the world.

This is something we should all be incredibly proud of. So, thank you for all that you do every day and for the model you continue to provide for our industry and nation.

In closing, I hope you can join me this month in both recognizing and reflecting on the history of Black Americans and their contributions to both medicine and our country.

I also realize you’re reading this at the beginning of a long Presidents Day weekend. Please stay safe and enjoy the extra time to rest and recharge. You’ve earned it.


Dr. David J. Smith, M.D.

Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – Health Affairs

Department of Defense

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

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Monday marks Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In addition to providing an important annual reminder of the significance of public service, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on his rich legacy.

Dr. King believed in the best of what our nation could be. And it was for that reason he fought dearly against injustice, inequality, and racism against Black Americans, and prejudice against other marginalized groups. He understood that it’s our differences that make us great—and fought to lift all people, as well as to help others understand that we share much more in common than we may think.

His life’s work provides many important, inclusive lessons. One that I return to, both personally and professionally, was his example of individual sacrifice. Whether seeking fair housing, safer working conditions and higher wages, or, of course, righting human injustice, he put the whole above self-interest.

Selfless service has always been one of the tenets of military service, an ideal we continually strive for, and a timely reflection point given the unique challenges facing our communities and military medicine.

The pandemic lays these collective challenges bare every day. While the virus doesn’t recognize race, rank, tax bracket, or geography, it continues to demonstrate the continued inequities and injustices that Dr. King fought so hard against. This necessitates our collective response — specifically to uplift and care for those the pandemic affects the most.

And, for more than two years now, that’s precisely the kind of leadership you’ve provided. The MHS has been a model of collaboration and selfless service. Your focus on the whole ensured our Service Members were safe and at the ready and saved the lives of countless more.

The health and wellbeing of those that you serve has always been top of mind, and you never wavered. I know the national response often pulled many of you away from your families and loved ones — and continues to. Thank you. We’re all incredibly grateful.

Focusing on the whole is also why you’re leading by example and encouraging vaccinations. Omicron is unrelenting, and the only way to protect both ourselves and our communities is by ensuring we’re both vaccinated and boosted. It’s vital that we continue to bang this drum!

A lot has been asked of you over the last year, and the New Year has already proven just as challenging. But I know we can meet this future if we continue to view our service through Dr. King’s legacy of selflessness and pursuing the common good.

And I look forward to taking this work on together.


Dr. David J. Smith, M.D.

Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – Health Affairs

Holiday Message from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

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MHS Team:

I’m honored to be performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

Having been a part of this extraordinary organization for several years, and having spent most of my career in military medicine, I know both its important work and the outstanding talent of our personnel accomplishing our important work.  In my experience, few match the skills and expertise of those within the Military Health System.

Your tireless dedication to our Service members and their families has always been an inspiration. That’s perhaps never been more apparent than over this past year. You not only ensured we met our readiness mission, you helped us navigate truly unprecedented changes and challenges—and military medicine and the people and communities we serve are stronger for it.

Together, we led critical, system-wide modernization efforts, and completed all market standups in the U.S. under the direction of the DHA. The MHS assumed a leadership role in responding to the pandemic, both within DoD and our larger communities. To date, we’ve administered more than 6.5 million COVID-19 vaccines, ensured the military got vaccinated to protect themselves and their teammates against COVID-19, and supported many more vaccinations at civilian sites around the United States. 

And of course, this was all done while continuing to deliver the exceptional, world-class care our beneficiaries deserve and expect. Thank you!

The year ahead will undoubtedly present new challenges—and I’m confident in our ability to respond. Your many efforts have positioned the entire enterprise for future success, and I look forward to taking this work on together.

Finally, as friends and family gather in the coming days, it’s vital that we continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated and we continue to employ prudent public health measures.  Omicron is spreading quickly, and the best way to ensure a safe holiday season for everyone is by getting your shots and boosters.  In addition, this can be a difficult time for some of our personnel, so please stay vigilant and aware of the needs of your teammates. Finally, in the coming weeks, some of you will deploy to help our Nation weather the Omicron wave. For those mobilizing and those maintaining our exceptional care, thank you!

As I noted, it’s been an extremely busy year.  I want to encourage you to try to take time to recharge and reflect on all that you’ve accomplished. Your colleagues, our beneficiaries, and our Country are incredibly grateful.

From our MHS family to all of yours, wishing you a very joyous and safe holiday season!

Dr. David J. Smith, M.D.

Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – Health Affairs

Department of Defense           

ASD(HA) Thanksgiving Message

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MHS Colleagues:

As we come upon Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking about family ­- from my own to all the families of those who make up the Military Health System.

It’s because of your heroic efforts that many families everywhere, however that may be defined, are able to be together this week. For many, it’ll be the first time they have shared a meal and enjoyed each other’s company in more than a year.

Far too many families have been torn apart by COVID-19, but our work within DoD and in the civilian sector has been critical in saving lives and keeping families intact. You’ve not only treated those affected by the virus, but our ongoing vaccination efforts are preventing further spread, allowing us to continue our national security missions, and importantly, preventing hospitalizations and deaths. As we approach the deadlines for service member and federal civilian vaccination, I’m hopeful that we are turning another important corner in our battle against COVID-19.

Your work supporting Operation Allies Welcome and Operation Allies Refuge has also ensured that loved ones are staying together. Like generations before them, our Afghan allies have sought the security and support of our country and we are welcoming them with open arms. Families are now able to call our nation home, and the redeeming spirit of America continues.

This past year tested our communities like never before. For the MHS, that’s when we shine.

You stepped up and put your own interests aside to serve others. Our personnel worked countless hours, often away from their own families, in support of these and many other critical, life-saving efforts. And all while continuing to ensure the readiness of our military to fight anywhere, anytime.

So on behalf of families everywhere this Thanksgiving, thank you.

Of course, thank you also for leading by example and getting vaccinated. I know we can do even more. For those of you who are eligible, please consider getting a booster to assure continued protection against COVID-19 and limit the virus’ spread. For our MHS parents, as a pediatrician and a mom, I ask that you consider getting your children vaccinated and protected against COVID-19. Boosters and pediatric vaccines are free and widely available in the MHS.

I hope you’ll spend this well-deserved time with your families and those closest to you. Rest and recharge, but also take a moment to reflect on all that you’ve achieved. It’s a lot, and all our DoD senior leaders are incredibly grateful for your work.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Terry Adirim, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.

Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – Health Affairs

Department of Defense

Veteran’s Day Message from the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

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MHS Colleagues,

Each year, we pause on Veterans Day to recognize the service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans. America’s brave military men and women, past and present, represent the very best of us. Their courage, love of country, and willingness to serve are ideals to which we should all aspire.

For the Military Health System, it’s also a reminder of the trust that has been placed in each of us to deliver a level of care that they deserve and have earned. We have the unique privilege of honoring their legacies not just one day, but every day—and throughout their lives.

Caring for our nation’s veterans is a role in which I’ve always taken a great deal of pride. It’s a sacred responsibility, and one in which the MHS continues to make a measurable and lasting impact.

This is also a day to recognize military families. The family members of the MHS are every bit as vital to meeting our readiness and national security mission. They, too, have served and sacrificed, and have earned our care and support when they need it.

Finally, to my veteran colleagues, thank you!

Your leadership and experience are essential to continuing to move the MHS forward. You strengthen our work with a perspective few can provide. I learn from you and am inspired by your example every day.

Wherever you find yourself this Veterans Day, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on those we’ve lost, those still with us, and of course those who are within our care.

Our obligation to our service members and their families doesn’t end when they’re out of uniform. And our mission affords us a tremendous opportunity to give back and provide the post-service support these heroes deserve.

Happy Veterans Day! And thank you for your service.


Terry Adirim, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – Health Affairs

Department of Defense 

Holiday Message from ASD(HA)

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MHS Colleagues,

Labor Day is unique among Federal holidays in that it doesn’t honor a historical event or a person or a people, but rather, an activity: work, or, the struggles of work. The holiday was borne out of a recognition of the struggles of the American worker at the height of the Industrial Revolution.

This year, Labor Day reminds me of work that was hardly recognized in the late 19th century: the solemn work of caring for and saving lives. In the midst of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, I am intensely aware of the work you do and the physical and mental exhaustion many health care workers are experiencing.  I am deeply appreciative of the labors and sacrifices each and every one of you make in order to provide world-class care to our Service members, retirees,  their families, and to the Nation.

We did not expect that this pandemic would rage on for as long as it has, with an end not quite in sight thanks to the Delta variant, and many not accepting the gift that are the COVID-19 vaccines. Our nation has called upon you again: to fully vaccinate our Service member population, to treat the influx of COVID-19 patients, to surge to hotspots around the country to ease overburdened local healthcare facilities, and to bring forward and care for tens of thousands of Afghans in their new home, our United States of America.

Countless healthcare workers are burned out and leaving the workforce. Their labor, our labor, is often thankless and heartbreaking, causing them to step away. Not so for the Military Health System.

We continue to call upon you, to ask for your tireless effort. Know that it is deeply appreciated by the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, the Chairman and all our other senior leaders. For those of you working this weekend: thank you. For those of you who are not, I hope this holiday brings you some rest and time for reflection.

Your labor has saved and will continue to save many lives. Our nation is grateful and healthier for it. Please let me know how I can support you as we continue our shared work.


Terry Adirim, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Department of Defense

Message from ASD(HA)

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MHS Colleagues,

As events continue to unfold in Afghanistan, I want to take a moment to acknowledge your tremendous service and sacrifice over the past two decades. I know the challenges of the past week have impacted many of you on a personal level.

When called, you served with honor, courage, and commitment, and represented the very best of our Military Health System. You never failed in support of our combatant commands around the world, always serving with distinction, and despite what may have felt like insurmountable challenges.

You should be incredibly proud of all that you’ve accomplished. As medical professionals, your success is largely measured in human terms, by the countless lives you saved and the many more that you touched. It’s a legacy that will be felt for generations to come by your fellow service members, your civilian partners, as well as the people of Afghanistan.

As you’re reading this, I also know that service to mission remains top of mind. Our colleagues are working around the clock to provide care to the Afghanistan people being evacuated by the U.S. military. Thank you for all that you continue to bring to these critical efforts.

Finally, in the days and weeks ahead, be good to yourselves. The physical and emotional toll of this work is heavy. Please take the time to get any help you may need. Our resources are here for you as well.

On behalf of your MHS colleagues, thank you again for representing the very best of us and job well done.



Terry Adirim, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – Health Affairs

Department of Defense

Memorial Day Messages from ASD(HA), DHA, and the SG

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Here are all the Memorial Day messages from our senior leadership:

Assistant SECDEF for Health Affairs


This Memorial Day weekend represents both sadness and hope. We recognize the service of our fallen heroes, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. This solemn remembrance comes on the heels of another type of war, the fight against COVID-19, which has taken the lives of service members and millions of others. Thankfully, we have made incredible progress against COVID-19, and much of the nation is beginning to return to normal.

That return to all the activities and events we have put on hold for so long comes with great risk if we don’t continue to exercise good judgement and keep safety top-of-mind.  For that reason, I ask that you be mindful of your actions and take appropriate safety measures to protect yourselves and your loved ones from injury, illness and COVID-19. If you have teammates who may be alone or feeling isolated, please reach out to them, and make sure they’re taking care of themselves.

I know the last fifteen months have been trying and difficult for all of us. It’s why the vaccination campaign has been so important. It will save more lives and protect us, our friends, and family against hospitalization and death. It has enabled us to get back to normal. So, please consider getting vaccinated if you haven’t yet. They are widely available, they are safe, and as a doctor, I have the utmost confidence in each of the vaccines.

Thank you again for all your hard work, for helping the Military Health System fulfill its mission, for protecting our Department and our nation against COVID-19, and for ensuring we all have a bit less to mourn and remember.

I hope you all have a safe, restful and reflective Memorial Day.

Thank you,


Terry Adirim, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – Health Affairs Department of Defense

Surgeon General

Esteemed Shipmates,

This weekend, our nation pauses to remember all military personnel who have died while serving our Armed Forces.  Their sacrifice is a true testament of selflessness.  Before embarking on this long holiday weekend, let us reflect on why Monday is a federal holiday and a day off for many of us.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac captures how and why we as a nation celebrate Memorial Day:

“The custom of honoring ancestors by cleaning cemeteries and decorating graves is an ancient and worldwide tradition, but the specific origin of Memorial Day-or Decoration Day, as it was first known-is unclear.  In early rural America, this duty was performed usually in late summer and was an occasion for family reunions and picnics.  After the Civil War, America’s need for a secular, patriotic ceremony to honor its military dead became prominent, as monuments to fallen soldiers were erected and dedicated, and ceremonies centering on the decoration of soldiers’ graves were held in towns and cities throughout the nation.  After World War I, the day expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.”

As we pause and give thanks to those who have gone before us, and gave their life to support the cause of freedom that we enjoy today, I am excited to share that Navy Medicine reached a significant milestone this past Tuesday when NMRTC Camp Lejeune administered the one-millionth vaccine across our Navy and Marine Corps sites.  This milestone demonstrates the hard work, resilience, and dedication of our One Navy Medicine Team.  Since the start of vaccination operations, more than 60% of Naval personnel have received at least one dose and more than 50% tare fully immunized.  Thank you for rolling up your sleeve and contributing to our defense against this virus.

COVID continues to be a force readiness issue and there is no better protection for our people, their families, or communities than getting vaccinated.  For those that have not vaccinated, I ask that you pause and reflect on the dedication of those who have come before us and then reconsider your reservations. Rededicating yourself to the health and protection of yourself and those you serve with is one great way to honor their sacrifice. In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Thank you for all you continue to do to take care of our Sailors, Marines, and their families.  I am humbled and honored to work with you, the incredible Navy Medicine professionals who ensure our warfighters are ready, healthy, and mission-ready.

With my continued respect and admiration,  


Bruce L. Gillingham, MD, CPE, FAOA


Surgeon General, U.S. Navy

Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

Defense Health Agency




The freedoms we enjoy in this country were not given but earned – generation after generation – through the courage of many Americans who took great risks, who fought for a cause in which they believed, who put service above self. As a nation, we ask our men and women in uniform to be prepared to make these sacrifices every day.  Sometimes, that sacrifice is borne by a family in mourning, creating an irreplaceable void in lives, and acknowledged by a carefully folded flag handed down with reverence. This coming Monday is Memorial Day, a time set aside to honor and remember those military members who gave what Abraham Lincoln described as “their last full measure of devotion.”

To the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones, thank you.  Many of us will all be setting aside time this weekend, thinking of you, and praying for you. To our medical professionals who have been there to witness service members take their last breath, thank you for being there and giving your all.

This Memorial Day weekend is accompanied by signs of hope and recovery from the pandemic that has changed our lives. As we get vaccinated, we’re looking forward to family gatherings, sporting events, vacations, and other freedoms some of us previously took for granted. We have a range of emotions, including a little worry and perhaps a lot of excitement! 

It’s important that we don’t forget the fundamentals as we venture outside. Stay hydrated, use sunblock, remember common-sense safety tips in the water activities, and be mindful of the potential dangers of alcohol. If you’re jumping in the car, make sure it’s service is up to date, and pay extra attention to the other drivers who might not be paying attention to you. This is the time of year when motorcycles are out in force and most fatal motorcycle accidents happen because motorists don’t see them. The DHA is kicking off our summer safety campaign and there are many resources to help you have a safe and happy summer. To see some of the summer safety resources, visit .

And while we can see a future where the pandemic is officially declared over, we aren’t there yet. The best protection is vaccination. But, depending on your location and vaccination status, modified masking and physical distancing guidance still apply. Let’s stay on track to defeat COVID.

I wish all of you a safe and peaceful Memorial Day.


Ronald J. Place, MD

LTG, US Army

Director, Defense Health Agency