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DoD to honor nurses during National Nurses Week 2020

Image of an OR nurse with mask and protective suit Lt. j.g. Natasha McClinton, an OR nurse, prepared a patient for a procedure in the intensive care unit aboard the U.S. hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). Comfort cared for critical and non-critical patients without regard to their COVID-19 status and worked with the recently closed Javits New York Medical Station as an integrated system to relieve the New York City medical system, in support of U.S. Northern Command's Defense Support of Civil Authorities as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sara Eshleman/Released)

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FALLS CHURCH, Virginia -- As the nation observes National Nurses Week beginning today, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley thanked nurses for their efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We salute all nurses -- both military and civilian -- who have served and are currently serving our nation and our people," Esper said during a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday. "Thanks to many of their efforts, we are encouraged to see the situation improving in several of the most impacted areas of the country."

Of the 62,000 service members deployed across the nation on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, more than 3,500 are medical personnel staffing civilian medical facilities and serving in embedded operations nationwide, said Esper.

"This pandemic has made it abundantly clear that nurses have always been and always will be on the front lines of keeping our American communities and our American people safe," Milley said.  "And I want to thank each and every one of them -- to include my wife, who is an active nurse -- for the sacrifices they endure every single day." 

National Nurses Week begins on National Nurses Day, May 6, and culminates May 12, the birthday of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, who is considered the founder of modern nursing. 

For the U.S. military, this week is an opportunity to recognize the contributions of thousands of women and men serving as nurses today, and all nurses who have served since the American Revolution. 

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery, in a message to the Military Health System's workforce, said celebrating the long history of military and civilian nurses recognizes the unique contributions nurses have made and continue to make to military medicine in both peacetime and wartime. 

"Thank you for serving on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19, directly delivering on Secretary Esper's priorities to protect our people, maintain readiness, and support the national response," McCaffery wrote. "Thank you for your enduring commitment to protect, promote, and improve military health care and readiness every day, building a stronger, more effective Military Health System for those depending on us."

This year, Nurses Week coincides with the 200th anniversary of Nightingale's birthday. "We celebrate her passion for and promotion of evidence-based practice and innovation that continue to grow and thrive today among nurses worldwide," said Navy Rear Adm. Mary Riggs, who serves as the Defense Health Agency interim assistant director of healthcare administration and interim chief nursing officer. The integration of clinical communities, research, and innovation of practice has improved patient care and nurse training, Riggs added.

Join the Military Health System’s Nurses Week conversation

About the Military Health System

The Military Health System is one of America’s largest and most complex health care institutions, and the world’s preeminent military health care delivery operation. MHS medical professionals save lives on the battlefield, combat infectious disease around the world, and provide health care services for 9.5 million eligible beneficiaries in one of the nation’s largest health benefit plans.

The mission of the MHS:

  • Ensure that all Active and Reserve Component medical personnel in uniform are trained and ready to provide medical care in support of operational forces around the world.
  • Provide a medical benefit commensurate with the service and sacrifice of more than 9.5 million active duty personnel, military retirees and their families.
  • Ensure America’s 1.4 million active duty and 804,000 Reserve Component personnel are healthy so they can complete their national security missions.

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