Army's top enlisted officer calls Cincinnati a top spot for improving military medicine

Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler tours UC Medical Center

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati is a national leader for improving military medical care, said the top enlisted officer in the U.S. Army.

Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler III, who serves as the Army chief of staff’s personal adviser on all enlisted-related matters, met with military and civilian doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Wednesday as part of a day-long trip to celebrate the Army’s 239th birthday.

His visit heavily focused on the intersection of civilian and military medical research and training being done here, given UC Medical Center partnerships with the U.S. Air Force, the UC College of Medicine and the Cincinnati Veterans Administration hospital.

Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler III talks with Jay Johanningman, head of trauma surgery at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, during a tour of military medical facilities at the hospital on Wednesday, June 11. Taylor Mirfendereski | WCPO

“I think we all need to recognize that post traumatic stress is a part of service….But we have the same issues in society,” Chandler said.

His trip to Cincinnati comes as the country prepares for the impact of the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan—thousands of service members will return home with unseen wounds from war. 

Chandler, who personally suffered from a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after a rocket blew up in his room while he was inside, has been encouraging service members to seek help since he assumed the adviser role in 2011.

“You have to recognize, we are coming out of Afghanistan as the president has spoken. But we’re going to be faced with this challenge of post-traumatic stress in the services for a long time,” said Chandler. “If we can learn things now for the next time we have to go and deploy soldiers into harms way, then maybe we can develop a plan before they even go.”

Cincinnati-based doctors are heavily involved in working on that plan. That’s why Air Force, VA and civilian doctors spoke with Chandler, his wife Jeanne, and other Army representatives—to discuss their work and convince top Army officials of the importance of sustaining the civilian-military relationship at the hospital.

Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler III, the top enlisted officer in the U.S. Army, sits with doctors and military officials Wednesday as  leaders discuss programs involving military medicine at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Taylor Mirfendereski | WCPO

“I don’t think the sergeant major could have ever understood that Cincinnati, Ohio, without a military base, was actually responsible for so much [military care],” said Jay Johanningman, head of trauma surgery at UC Medical Center and a colonel in the Air Force Reserves.

UC Medical Center is home to the U.S. Air Force’s Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills, a one-of-a-kind training program focusing on specialized teams that treat wounded service members in-flight. Doctors are also invested in blood research, traumatic brain injury research and the impact on point-of-injury care.

"I think we have a lot to learn within military medicine from their research and what they've been able to do so far," Chandler said.

Maj. Daniel Cox shows Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler III and his wife Jeanne a simulation room at University of Cincinnati Medical Center where Air Force doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists learn to treat wounded soldiers in flight. Taylor Mirfendereski | WCPO

The Fort Thomas, Ky. division of the Cincinnati VA hospital has the only residential traumatic brain injury and PTSD program in the nation. It’s designed to treat active duty, reserve and National Guard service members.

While Chandler discussed his support for PTSD and TBI treatment programs, he stopped shy of saying much about the on-going federal investigation involving VA hospital wait times, adding that he does not work directly with the Department of Veteran Affairs in his current position.

“I think that most veterans would agree that when they receive the care, they are pretty satisfied with it. But if we’ve got a problem, I trust the veterans administration to sort it out….There are good people there that want to do the right thing. There might be some bad eggs that we need to take care of. I trust they’ll do that,” he said during an interview with a local radio station Wednesday.

Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler III, the top enlisted officer in the U.S. Army, sat next to Jay Johanningman (right), head of trauma surgery at University of Cincinnati Medical Center as hospital leaders discussed their programs involving military medicine on Wednesday, June 11.  Taylor Mirfendereski | WCPO

Johanningman said Chandler’s hospital visit was critical to learn about the Air Force teams that often save the lives of Army soldiers and to ensure the Army continues to send soldiers across the country to Cincinnati to get hands-on training in a trauma center before they are deployed for the first time.

“He can tell his boss as money draws down, as budgets tighten, it’s still worth spending the money,” Johanningman said.    

More Army soldiers have been wounded in action and killed in Operation Enduring Freedom than any other branch of service. More than 13,980 Army personnel have been wounded and 1,645 have died in the war through June 11, according to figures provided by the U.S. Department of Defense. The war started Oct. 7, 2007.

In addition to his hospital visit, Chandler held a private town hall meeting Wednesday morning at the Woodland Ohio National Guard Training and Community Center, where he addressed soldiers and relatives of those who have served and/or died while serving. 

Chandler said the heavy presence of Army National Guard and Reserve units in Cincinnati gives the area a unique perspective to bring to the table with PTSD and TBI treatment programs and research. 

"Unlike an active duty soldier who is going to see a care provider all the time and probably see the best that military has to offer, how do we combine those things to help our guardsman and reservists who are not close to a military installation or able to access the military medical care system all the time?" 

Chandler also attended a fundraiser at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse and threw the first pitch at the Reds Game Wednesday night. 

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