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San Antonio Military Health System Positions Itself For The Future

Joint Base San Antonio
The San Antonio Military Medical Center.

On Tuesday three of the nation’s top military medical commanders offered a look at the current state of military health care in San Antonio -- from advances in research to new advanced battlefield treatment.

Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Douglas Robb, director of the Defense Health Agency in Falls Church, Va., joined Maj. Gen. Jimmie Keenan, director of the San Antonio Military Health System, and Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Byron Hepburn, the first director of the San Antonio Military Health System, for the panel discussion.

The panelists said San Antonio is home to the largest inpatient and outpatient facilities in the Department of Defense. Through nine major DOD facilities in San Antonio, military doctors have been testing and researching new ways to care for wounded war fighters with injuries ranging from severe burns and amputations to post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Hepburn said San Antonio’s Military Health System is emerging from the Iraq-Afghanistan War with new methodologies and new medical systems. He said care has moved through life-saving amputations to new technologies that in future conflicts can save limbs in the theater of war.

"Here in San Antonio at the Institute of Surgical Research primarily, but also at SAMMC (San Antonio Military Medical Center), there's been work on what's called vascular shunts," Hepburn said. "Basically, it's a small tube that you can suture into an injured artery -- a blood vessel -- and it will save that extremity. And then we can do definitive surgery later, but that temporary shunt is in there in place in a very emergent manner and it saves that leg or that arm."

Jim Reed, president of the San Antonio Medical Foundation, the group that sponsored the discussion, said the military is working with civilian entities throughout the community in educational capacities.

"I knew there was a little bit, but I didn't realize how far that had come," Reed said. "And I think that goes back to that synergy of what we got at SAMMC during that BRAC, and that it's fallen into all the other institutions in town: [University of the] Incarnate Word, the Health Science Center, the hospital systems, Christus Santa Rosa."

The San Antonio Military Health System is an integrated Army-Air Force health care delivery system established in 2011. It is estimated to have a $3 billion dollar impact on the San Antonio economy and operates the Defense Department's only continental Level I Trauma Center, its only bone marrow transplant unit and its only burn center.

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.