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NEWS | March 11, 2024

DOD remains committed to protecting health of service members, learning from effects of COVID-19

By Matthew Olay DOD News

Four years removed from the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, a pair of Defense Department health officials on March 7 testified that the DOD remains committed to protecting service members' health, while also continuing to monitor and learn from the effects of COVID-19.

Dr. Lester Martinez-Lopez, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and Shauna Stahlman, senior managing epidemiologist and technical lead in the field of epidemiology and analysis at the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division, provided insight into the Pentagon's ongoing monitoring of COVID-19-related issues during a roughly 45-minute appearance before a House Armed Services Committee.

"Today, four years after the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it continues to circulate in our military communities and evolve into new variants, presenting an ongoing health threat capable of harming service members and affecting operations," Martinez-Lopez told members of the Subcommittee on Personnel. "The department remains committed to protecting the health of the force and to better understand these impacts."  

In addressing some of the specific ways in which DOD is attempting to get a leg up on COVID-19, Martinez-Lopez pointed to a pair of databases that medical analysts are using to investigate data and trends related to COVID-19. One is the Defense Medical Surveillance System, or DMSS, which is a relational database that is continuously expanding with the documentation of service members' individual medical experiences throughout their careers; the second is the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database, which provides limited remote access to DMSS information.

"Data to formulate policy is critical to us, especially when it comes to clinical policy," Martinez-Lopez said. "Our ongoing data surveillance will help inform future DOD policy on force health protection, improve readiness, and help prepare for and mitigate against future health threats." 

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, DOD has worked with and provided support to the Department of Health and Human Services in efforts to combat COVID-19, while generating numerous force health protection advisories intended to help service members stay ahead of the often-mutating virus.