FALLS CHURCH, Va., Feb. 15, 2017 -- The U.S. Army top medical officer invited 15 community leaders from 12 Veterans and Military Service Organizations in the National Capital Region and the Military District of Washington to attend a roundtable Feb. 15 at the Defense Health Headquarters located in Falls Church, Virginia.

Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West, the surgeon general of the U.S. Army and commanding general for the U.S. Army Medical Command, along with Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald C. Ecker, the Medical Command's command sergeant major and other key leaders discussed key topics as the Army Virtual Health program and the U.S. Army Medicine Campaign Plan 2017 during the two-hour session.

The Army telehealth system offers clinical services throughout the entire warfighter spectrum of operations including on the battlefield.

"Building on more than 20 years of experience, Army telehealth offers clinical services across 18 time zones, in more than 30 countries and territories and in more than 30 clinical specialties across all regions and in the deployed environment," said Dr. Colleen Rye, Ph.D., the chief of the Army Virtual Health platform.

"It provides a lifeline to advanced medical capabilities for first responders when anti-access and area-denial capabilities inhibit medical evacuation as well as support Soldiers across all roles of care within the medical battlefield operating systems and across unified land operations and within all phases of military operation," Rye told those in attendance.

"Telehealth enhances access to quality care, readiness and safety," she explained.

In addition, improving access to care for military families and veterans was covered at length. West discussed improvements in access to care and noted that Army Medicine had received two awards for those improvements. For example, about 720,000 additional appointment slots have been created. About 85 percent of Army medical treatment facilities have extended hours, earlier in the day in some cases, but especially during evening hours, in response to patient requests. Patient input regarding when to expand hours is being closely evaluated, West said.

Another topic discussed at length included the current hiring freeze. About 4,000 clinical positions are currently open.

The discussion included retired Lt. Gen. Guy C. Swan III, the vice president for the Association of the U.S. Army and retired Navy Adm. Michael Cowan, who became the Navy's 34th surgeon general in 2004. Cowan is also a member of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Health Care Committee.

West thanked all the participants for their support. She invited continued feedback from the participants where additional improvements in care were needed.