The Value of Research in Making Good Policy and Program Decisions

When I was a major I commanded the US Army Medical Research Unit-Europe located in Heidelberg, Germany; the unit has since closed and relocated to Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Washington. While in this position I deployed multiple times to various locations, including Bosnia, Kosovo, and Kuwait to conduct behavioral health care research. Thus, I understood firsthand the ins and outs of conducting field research. Further, I learned how important medical research is to the Army.

The Army is the leader in conducting military medical research. While many of my colleagues from the other services might take objection to this assertion, the facts speak for themselves. The medical research budget for the Army is twice that of all the other services combined. The number of personnel dedicated to conducting medical research in the Army is four times the size of all the other services combined. As a result of the Army’s commitment to medical research, the contribution of Army scientists has been tremendous. Nowhere have these contributions been more evident than during the decade and half of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, my goal here is not to be a cheerleader for Army medical research, rather to note the Army’s commitment to medical research is the primary reason for the Army’s success. I am convinced that if the other services equally supported their services medical research efforts similar accomplishments would also be seen. The fact that the other services do not embrace medical research to the same extent as the Army means that the Army is and will remain a leader in this area.

Most leaders understand the value of good data in making decisions. Surprising to most is the fact that the biggest supporter of psychological health research is the operational leaders. That is the “trigger pullers” support psychological health research much more than does most medical personnel, the exception being those medical personnel who actually served in combat arms units such as the brigade or division surgeons or those who served on brigade or division mental health staffs. Folks like Lieutenant Colonels Nadia West (now a major general), Christopher Warner (now a colonel), among many other division surgeons embraced behavioral health research and did their best to support it.

Over the years, I have experienced far too many times folks from the medical community, with little or no operational experience attempting to block or interfere with psychological health research, possessing the misguided belief that senior leaders would never support the “touchy, feely” studies that were being proposed or naively believing that research was a waste of effort and time. Obstacles which were easily overcome once the division or corps chief of staff was briefed on the research study.

In all my years of conducting research, I never encountered a chief of staff or general officer from the combat arms who didn’t enthusiastically support psychological health research, including Major Generals Casey, Abizaid, Campbell, Bell, and Petreus, all who went on to become four star generals. To be sure, psychological health research has also enjoyed continued and uninterrupted support of the Army Surgeon Generals, including Lieutenant Generals Blanck, Peake, Kiley, Schoomaker, and Horoho, whom I have gotten to know personally throughout my military career.

 
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