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Address Before the Association of Military Surgeons

November 19, 1952

IT CERTAINLY is a very great pleasure for me to be here tonight to meet with the Association of Military Surgeons.

I don't know when I have enjoyed an entertainment more than I have the one which has just finished. And I was highly intrigued by the presentation of these medals and awards for public service.. I am trying to figure out some way so I can get that orchestra and entertainment out home-strictly at the cost of the taxpayers, you understand. First time I have ever had an orchestra to play three Strauss waltzes for me, and then play the first one over for an encore--which I appreciated most highly. The renditions of the soloists and the chorus, I think, are as fine as I have ever witnessed, and I pretend to know something about music--very little--but I do know something.
I am particularly glad to join in welcoming the distinguished guests from the military medical services of other nations. You have met together with us not only in the bonds of a common professional interest, but also in the friendship of free men struggling against tyranny. I hope you will enjoy your stay here, and that you will carry a good impression with you of this country of ours when you go home.

I have many friends among the members of this association, and there is one of them that I know extremely well. I am going to tell you a behind-the-scenes story on him. He was a lieutenant colonel in the airborne forces. He was the one who set up the first hospital on Omaha Beach. He set up the first hospital on the other side of the Rhine. He was down close to Prague somewhere when I got to Potsdam in July of 1945, and I sent for this lieutenant colonel to come to see me at Potsdam.

When he arrived I said, "Doctor, I want you to go back to the White House and be my physician."

He said, "Oh, Mr. President, I can't do that. I have got a hospital full of wounded men. I have to stay and take care of them."

I said, "Doc, are there any other doctors in this man's Army?" "Oh, yes," he said, "there are lots of them." "Well," I said, "now you had better leave some of those doctors in charge, and I want you to go back to the White House."

He said, "Yes, sir, I understand now who I am talking to."

He has been my physician ever since, and if he had only me to take care of, he wouldn't have anything to do. But he spends his time at Waiter Reed Hospital really working as a working doctor should. His ideals are those that are expressed in the constitution and the bylaws of this organization--service to the people who need that sort of service. I am very happy to have such a physician in the White House.

I have been especially pleased to hear about the way this association is broadening its membership among all the people in the Government who are engaged in health work. To me, this is a splendid recognition of the necessity for teamwork and wide cooperation in providing the best that is possible in medical care.

I am glad to have this opportunity to express my gratitude to the members of the health professions who have served in our Armed forces and other agencies of the Government in meeting the vast health needs of this Nation.

As my term of office is drawing to a close, I think back from time to time about the events of the past 7 1/2 years. They have been exciting years. In many ways they have been very difficult; in many respects they have been years of great progress. What the final verdict of history will be, I do not know. But I do know this: Whatever measure of success has been achieved by this administration has been made possible by the loyal and devoted work of many men and women. In the field of health, we have made a great deal of progress. And for that my thanks go out tonight to all the members of this association and to your fellow health workers throughout the Government. Seven years ago tonight, I think, I made my first public speech on health to this organization-just 7 years ago tonight. I have been vitally interested in the health and welfare of the people of this country, and I shall continue to be and to carry on that interest as long as I am able to walk around. And I think that will be quite a while.

During my term as President, I have been deeply interested in all aspects of our federal health and medical services.

Scientific progress has been so rapid in recent years, and the demand for better medical care and the cost of providing it have both increased so sharply, that we face a whole set of new problems in the field of health. These are problems that can be solved only by a cooperative effort on the part of all the groups in our society. I have tried to get the Federal Government to shoulder its full responsibilities in this effort.

I have been sharply attacked and criticized for my insistence that the Federal Government do its full share in solving our health problems. But I do not mind being attacked. The main objective for me has been to get on with the job of improving the Nation's health. And in that job we have made a lot of progress. We have made it in spite of politically inspired opposition--and this progress is a source of real satisfaction to me, I will tell you that. I believe the Federal Government has helped a great deal. I believe it could do even more. And I think it will do more as the facts become fully known, and our health problems are more widely understood.

This is not, for me at least, a matter of partisan politics. It is a matter of serving the general welfare of the country, and of using the most effective means for doing it.

The health of the American people is one of our basic national resources. It is as important to the welfare of our country as our land, our water, and our minerals. Our National Government has been concerned about the preservation and development of these resources for decades. It is just as logical, and just as important, for us to be concerned about health.

In the field of natural resources, the Government acts as one of the many elements concerned. It works in cooperation with the States, with the local governments, with consumers, with private and public enterprise. Only through this kind of cooperation can we preserve our resources and our American system. It is the same way in the field of health. Progress there comes from the cooperative efforts of the professions, the public, and the Government--all branches of the Government.

Some of the most remarkable advances we have made are in the field to which many of you are dedicated--the medical care of our military forces. In World War II we achieved near miracles in caring for the wounded. Yet, today, in the fighting in Korea, the mortality rate among the wounded who receive medical aid is only half the rate of World War II. The blood and plasma given by the American people, the marvelous antibiotics, and the greatly improved anesthetics administered by superbly trained doctors have helped to bring this about. The helicopter evacuation of wounded from under the very guns of the enemy has saved many lives. As a matter of fact, the helicopter has become so important to military medicine that helicopter units are now being attached to the medical department. It won't be long before every department in our whole defense will have an air force of its own--better watch out.

Let me remind you--it's a good thing we have unification, General. Let me remind you that your wonderful record in Korea has been achieved with one-half the number of physicians for every 1,000 men that was used in World War II. Think over that. One half the number of physicians per thousand men than were used in World War II--yet the improvement in the saving of lives has been immense. This advance was made possible by cooperation between the Government and the medical profession. It is only by the closest kind of coordination between our military medical services and civilian health agencies that we have been able to cut the mortality rate in this way.

Another area where we have made great progress is in the care of our veterans. Since World War II we have brought our disabled servicemen the finest health care available. Through the cooperative efforts of private practitioners, professional schools, and hospitals, the Veterans Administration is now able to provide an ever-improving standard of medical services for the men and women injured in the service of our country.

The advances we have made in improving the health of the American people are, in a great measure, the result of steady progress in medical research. This has meant ceaseless experimentation in our laboratories. It has meant equally tireless efforts to put new discoveries to practical use. They are not much use unless you do put them to practical use.

The American people have given admirable support to medical research through private organizations, particularly concerning polio, cancer, heart disease, and mental health. But the plain fact is that the cost of research is so great it cannot be met solely through private means.

The Government must provide financial assistance if this vital work is to continue.

Through the Department of Defense, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Public Health Service, the Federal Government is right now supporting by grants well over a quarter of all the research done in the medical schools of this Nation. And more than this, the services are doing extensive vital research in their own laboratories and in the field. The problems of aviation medicine and submarine medicine are receiving careful study. Intensive work is being done to solve the health problems of troops in the field exposed to unfamiliar conditions and little known diseases.

The most gratifying aspect of our efforts and the accomplishments in military medical research is that our advances in this field benefit the health of all mankind. Some of the greatest discoveries have been made by the medical research of the services, and they have been of benefit to the whole world. The medal you just awarded awhile ago was an example of that.

To me, one of the best examples of the importance of the Government in the field of research is the development of radioisotopes. Some 27,000 shipments of radioactive isotopes have been made by the Atomic Energy Commission to institutions in this country. These materials have proved invaluable in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with thyroid disease, heart ailments, and cancer. But before these radioactive isotopes could be made available, billions of dollars had to be invested in the development of atomic energy. Only the Government could have borne this great cost burden. And I am here to tell you that I have been working ever since the first atomic bomb was exploded to turn this tremendous source of energy to peaceful purposes. And we are going to do that in the course of another generation.

These are examples of the notable progress we have made in the health field through the cooperative efforts of Government and professional groups. And each advance has in some measure contributed to a further improvement in the health of the American people. Get that!--each advance has in some measure contributed to a further improvement of the health of the American people. It has been nationwide.

Today, we enjoy the highest standard of health in our history. We can look forward to the highest life expectancy we have ever known. Great strides have been made in controlling communicable diseases.

As we go forward, however, we meet new problems. Major questions about the chronic diseases remain unsolved. Training takes longer and is more highly specialized. The cost of adequate medical care continues to mount. We can solve these problems with the same success that we have had in the past, if we continue on the path of collaboration between the health professions and your Government.

But in spite of our successes, we are confronted at this time by a violent attack on the whole principle of Government support and assistance in meeting health problems. The attack is led by men who, in my opinion, are sadly mistaken in believing that our whole pattern of progress conceals some hidden danger to the livelihood and the independence of the medical practitioner. Nothing could be sillier than to fear that progress in the field of health endangers the doctor. But unfortunately this campaign of opposition has had its effect.

What has this opposition meant in terms of lost progress? for one thing, our shortages of doctors and nurses and health personnel have not been met, despite repeated efforts to persuade the Congress to adopt a program of Federal aid to medical education.

The shortage of trained personnel is one of the worst problems we face. It is particularly serious when we try to meet the needs of the Armed forces for doctors and other medical personnel. As you all know, we are now drafting physicians, dentists, and veterinarians. This situation places on all of us--the health professions, the military, the Selective Service System, and the public--a solemn obligation to make wise disposition of our medical manpower. We must increase the flow of students into the health professions, and we must staff the institutions which train them. The civilian medical and health services must be maintained in balance with military needs.

The trouble, sacrifice, and inconvenience caused by the present necessity of drafting doctors might be obviated--or at least lessened-if our supply of civilian doctors were not so limited. This is something for the profession to think about. We must train far more doctors than we are training now, and it is in the long-range interests of the medical profession itself to see that this is done.

The opposition we have encountered has resulted in other serious setbacks. Additional local public health units which are needed, particularly in rural areas, have not been established--although the need has been made clear to the Congress time and again. I harp on it every time I go down there and talk to those fellows, but it doesn't seem to have done any good, so far. Also, my proposal to use the insurance principle in bringing the high cost of medical care within the means of all the people has been misrepresented and distorted. As a result, many people have lost sight of the real issue at stake-making adequate health care available to all, despite limitations of income.

That is why I appointed a Commission on the Health Needs of the Nation last December. I asked 15 prominent citizens to devote their efforts for 1 full year to a careful and detailed study of our health problems and to give the American people their recommendations for needed action. I gave them the broadest charter possible, and I made it clear that their work was to be completely on their own.

The Commission has been hard at work. It has held panel discussions with the leading experts in every phase of the health field. It has conducted public hearings in virtually every region in the country. It has taken up the major issues that have been the subject of controversy over these years.

I do not know what the Commission will recommend. But I have great confidence in its members. I feel sure that their report next month will be a real contribution to our efforts to bring about better health for all our people.

Of course, I cannot tell you what effect this report will have upon the new administration. I hope they will consider it on its merits. They would be wise to do just that.

The people of this country continue to expect their Government to be concerned with their well-being. In the field of health, as in other important aspects of economic and social life, the people will look to the Government to meet those