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Deputy Secretary of Defense to DHA: ‘The Work You All Have Done is Unprecedented’

Image of Kathleen Hicks addresses personnel at Defense Health Headquarters. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks visited Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, April 2, 2024, to reinforce the critical role the Defense Health Agency plays in supporting the Department of Defense mission. (Photo: Robbie Hammer)

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks visited Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, on April 2, 2024, to reinforce the role of the Defense Health Agency in supporting the mission of the Department of Defense.

During remarks to DHA staff, Hicks said, “Health care … is at the heart of what we do to take care of our people. I am here because of you all. The work you all have done is unprecedented for [the more than 9 million] beneficiaries across our system who rely on all of you.”

The acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Ashish S. Vazirani and Dr. Lester Martínez- López, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, were also in attendance.

Vazirani toured DHHQ earlier, led by Defense Health Agency Director U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland. He stopped to greet leaders and staff to learn about current and future initiatives led by DHA personnel.

Accomplished DHA Staff Honored by Deputy Secretary and DHA Director Crosland and Hicks presented challenge coins to recognize several DHA personnel for their service to the agency.

“I’m so grateful to the deputy secretary for recognizing some of our exceptional people—military and civilian,” Crosland said in her remarks. “As these honorees will be the first to acknowledge, health care is a team sport, and they are part of a larger team that has done some extraordinary things for agency and for the DOD.”

DHA staff who were honored represented a wealth of experience across military health, and included:

  • U.S. Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Kathleen Pombier: As an OB-GYN physician at military hospitals and clinics in the National Capital Region, Pombier serves as a clinical policy expert in the DHA. She played an essential role in developing programs and processes to establish walk-in contraceptive health services at all DOD military hospital and clinics worldwide, ensuring that all service members have same-day access to reproductive health care, regardless of their geographic location.
  • Narinder Saund: Serving in the DHA since its inception in 2012, Saund helped develop and implement modern digital health technologies that support medical staff and the more than 9 million beneficiaries served by military medicine.
  • Denise Dennis: Since 2012, Dennis’ efforts at DHA helped steer the agency though multiple rounds of continuing resolutions while ensuring investments in long-term health care solutions remained on track. Ms. Dennis has also overseen assistance and training to financial managers in the field, and improved data collection and prioritization of unfunded requirements.
  • U.S. Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Stephanie Hightower: Hightower serves in two capacities for the DHA— a practicing pulmonologist and intensive care physician at Walter Reed National Military Center, and as the leader for organizational wellness initiatives in the DHA. She spearheads an innovative effort to address medical staff burnout, increase job satisfaction, and improve medical retention and recruitment efforts.

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Last Updated: April 25, 2024
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