Vernon Sechriest: Committed to Improving Healthcare for Military Members and Veterans through Research

Vernon Sechriest, an orthopedic surgeon and a U.S. Navy veteran, explains that active-duty military and veterans have unique healthcare needs.

In this post, Dr. Sechriest discusses his work with an extraordinary team of US Navy researchers to understand and improve the treatment of military combatants who sustained limb-threatening injuries during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Vernon Sechriest

Vernon Sechriest: His strong passion

While serving on active duty in the US Navy, Dr. Sechriest developed a passion to improve the health of military personnel suffering from combat extremity injuries. In addition to his clinical work as an orthopedic staff surgeon at Naval Medical Center San Diego, he collaborated with Navy researchers to study health outcome data to inform treatment decisions on the optimal short and long-term care of wounded warriors.  Sechriest regards his clinical care of wartime-injured patients and the research efforts to understand and improve their health outcomes as, “some of the most important work of my entire professional life.”

Vernon Sechriest: How he developed his passion for helping active-duty military and veterans

Sechriest served on active duty in the U.S. Navy as an orthopedic surgeon during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. As a result, he gained experience caring for patients with combat extremity wounds due to high-energy ballistic weapons and improvised explosive devices. Sechriest recalls, “At that time, health consequences for patients with combat-related extremity trauma were among the leading challenges for military health care providers.”  According to Dr. Sechriest, “the health needs of combat-injured veterans were often very complex, sometimes misunderstood, and occasionally not even recognized.”  Sechriest explains that there were “significant gaps in knowledge of, not only how to best care for this population initially, but also how to optimally care for them over the long-term.”   In  response to the need for a better understanding of how to best care for the wartime injured, Dr. Sechriest began working with the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) in San Diego as well as the San Diego VA Medical Center.

Vernon Sechriest:  Pursuit of medical readiness and excellence through research

For over a decade, Dr. Sechriest collaborated with NHRC San Diego to conduct longitudinal research on the long-term physical and mental health outcomes of US veterans with combat-related extremity injuries.  Sechriest explains, “At that time, our work was unique because very little research had been done to describe the long-term health outcomes of patients who had sustained combat-related amputations or limb-threatening injuries.”  Dr. Sechriest notes, “this  type of investigation required integration of military and VA health data” and, “the research was only possible due to a novel collaboration between the Department of Defense and VA investigators.”

Vernon Sechriest:  Data-driven approach to caring for US veterans with combat-extremity injuries

Over time, Sechriest and his NHRC colleagues demonstrated that, in the years following combat injury to an arm or leg, depending on the severity and type of early treatment, there were unique physical and mental health outcomes as well as healthcare and/or rehabilitation needs. Dr. Sechriest emphasizes that the importance of this research has been in its application to the clinical setting, “where the findings have been used to inform and to optimize the treatment pathways for wounded warriors.

Vernon Sechriest: Service continues as a veteran serving veterans

Although Sechriest is no longer on active duty, he now serves in the Veterans Health Administration. He is currently a medical staff member of the  VA Loma Linda Healthcare System where he works as an orthopedic surgeon as well as the facility’s Chief of Staff.  As a veteran serving other veterans, he continues to offer his expertise as a clinician and researcher to improve access to care, the quality of that care, and each patient’s care experience.

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