Thursday, November 13, 2014

Veterans Day 2014

November 11, 2014

When I tell people that I’m a Veteran, their first response is usually “I didn’t know you were in the military.” That statement is then routinely followed by the question, “In what branch of the military and during what era did you serve?” When I tell them I wasn’t in the military they are really perplexed until I explain that I served in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, one of the seven “uniformed services” that also include:  the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps. Besides a uniform, the common bond between these organizations is their mission to protect the health and well-being of the people of the United States and to partner with other countries to address the threats to peace, health, and safety throughout the world.

The U.S. response to the Ebola crisis in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea is a great example of how this broad mission gets advanced in a non-combat manner by several of the uniformed services. Military and public health personnel are partnering to fight an infectious disease that poses a threat to people in the U.S. and throughout the world. That threat is not only to health but to economic, social, and governmental systems that, if disrupted, could destabilize communities and countries and lead to new and broader conflicts. That’s why all of the uniformed services are vital to our health and security. This also underscores the “Health in All Policies” approach needed for health and security in that the uniformed services are part of different governmental departments:  Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Commerce. Our response to Ebola highlights the various ways one can serve his/her country.

On this Veterans Day we appropriately honor our military veterans for their efforts and sacrifices during times of conflict and war. Even though World War I, which began 100 years ago, was to be “the war to end all wars,” U.S. troops have been activated numerous times since then to address conflicts that threaten peace in our world. We categorize the era in which Veterans have served in terms of these conflicts, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Bosnia, etc. This is a reminder that our military needs to always be ready to serve.

Similarly, the public health issues that threaten peace and stability are continuously changing and/or resurfacing so public health has to continually be prepared and ready to serve. That’s why we should also honor the service of public health workers who fought different wars in different eras like:

Infectious disease eras: smallpox, TB, cholera, yellow fever, measles, polio, HIV, Ebola, etc.
Vaccine and antibiotic eras including the emerging antibiotic resistance era.
Environmental eras: contaminated air, food, water, and climate change
Chronic disease eras:  diabetes, heart disease, dementias
Disparity eras:  poverty, education, opportunity, structural inequities, etc.
And many others and more to come.

I recognize that not everyone working in public health is or has been part of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS). Yet, the work of all public health workers is essential. That’s why when I honor PHS Veterans, I also honor all public health workers who are doing just what PHS Veterans have done since 1889  – working diligently, passionately, and collaboratively to assure the conditions in which everyone can be healthy. We are all a vital part of that public health team.

While it may not be as well recognized as the tunes of the military services, on this Veterans Day, let’s end with the official march of the U.S. Public Health Service:

The mission of our service is known the world around
In research and in treatment no equal can be found
In the silent war against disease no truce is ever seen
We serve on the land and the sea for humanity
The Public Health Service Team