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Happy Birthday, DHA! Director Reflects on Eight Years of Progress

Military personnel posing for a picture Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place (left) prepares to cut a birthday cake with military and civilian members of the DHA staff as part of an event marking the eighth year of the launch of the agency at DHA Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, Oct. 1 (Photo by Jacob Moore, MHS Communications).

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The Defense Health Agency marked the eighth year since its creation and the launch of its mission providing a medically ready force and ready medical force to combatant commands and Military Health System beneficiaries around the world.

“What I sense today, and particularly as I look back on the last 12 months, is great pride – an organization on the move and working in a unified way to support those we serve,” said DHA Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place at a hybrid in-person and online event on Oct. 1 at DHA headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia.

“I see an organization looking ahead, gaining confidence in itself and its parts, and the confidence of its stakeholders,” he said. “I see it in everyday activities, both large and small, and I see it in the increased demands placed on us.”

Place also said as the DHA celebrates the beginning of its ninth year as a Combat Support Agency, it is facing heightened expectations from those who count on it for support -- whether that support is for overseas operations, providing routine health care at home or responding to crises like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since the DHA was first established, this organization has understood it is a supporting organization,” Place explained. “We know that our organizational mission doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In fact, we are here to support the rest of the Department so that they can accomplish their missions – the combatant commands, the military departments, the military markets, the individual MTFs, and so on.”

Since its inception, DHA’s responsibilities have expanded from managing shared health care services to being directly responsible for health care delivery at military treatment facilities.

“And that responsibility will completely transition to the agency in fiscal year 2022,” he said.

The DHA is entering the final phase of its Congressional mandate to consolidate management of a unified military health system, and almost all large markets have transitioned to the DHA, Place said. 

On the immediate horizon, Place said, the DHA will be focusing on the single and stand-alone markets, and by Spring 2022 will welcome overseas regions into the DHA family.

He emphasized that performance has been the “single, most important factor” in DHA’s evolution.

“We could have all the infopapers and PowerPoints in the world to share, but it’s our performance that is creating momentum and confidence and creating increased demand for our services and our insights,” he said.

Dr. Ronald Place participating in a Wreath-Laying Ceremony
Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place (left) participates in a Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 1, as part of events marking the eighth year of the launch of DHA (Photo by Jacob Moore, MHS Communications).

That performance has been on full display with the agency’s response to the pandemic beginning in January 2020 and ultimately administering millions of coronavirus vaccines since Dec. 14, 2020.

“Our Combat Support team, our immunization health team and our operations cell served as the nerve center for this organization, pulling together clinical, logistics, TRICARE, pharmacy, health IT, analytics and virtually every other element in the agency to put together an extraordinary team that operated 24/7,” he said.

In addition to managing a global response to the pandemic, DHA has also continued the deployment of MHS GENESIS, the new department-wide electronic health records system. The DHA has also progressed into the next generation of TRICARE and pharmacy contracts and continues to ensure the delivery of safe, high-quality health care around the world to almost 10 million beneficiaries.

“Success breeds success, and it creates a demand for more of the same,” Place said.  “The question is no longer about whether the DHA can perform, it’s about our long-term ability to sustain and expand that demonstrated excellence.”

“This is a different organization than what was imagined in 2011 when the first discussions happened, or October 1st of 2013, our first official day,” he added. “It’s significantly different than what existed when the [National Defense Authorization Act of 2017] passed, and it responded to the emerging crises now of 2020 and 2021.”

Place lauded the accomplishments of the DHA team and thanked them for their hard work, especially in the past year.

“You should be immensely proud of what you have accomplished, individually and as a team,” Place told the DHA team. “I know there have been long hours, weekends and holidays disrupted. For those of you with young children at home, perhaps even more challenging. You should be proud of what you achieved, and proud of managing this year with such professionalism,” he said.

“The achievements we’ve celebrated, however, are past. The work ahead of us, it’s even more important. We will be tested, and re-tested, every day and every week now in our ninth year; I think that’s okay. We’re ready for what the next year will bring, and confident in our ability to meet the tasks in front of us.”

DHA Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg also spoke to the military health community at the birthday ceremony.

“Birthdays and anniversaries are phenomenal occasions…you get a chance to look back and see the things that you have accomplished over the last year, but you also get to relish in the opportunity of the upcoming year,” said Gragg. “As we’re continuing to mature as an organization and mature as an agency, that we continue to embrace the fact that we are doing this in support, together.”

Place, Gragg and other DHA leaders marked the occasion earlier in the day with a Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

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