Army's new top doctor in the West takes command facing budget uncertainty

Adam Ashton

The Army on Thursday ushered in a new top doctor for its hospitals in Western states with talk of “dynamic uncertainty” in its budget and an emphasis on shifting care to preventative medicine.

“By the time they get to me it’s too late,” said Brig. Gen. John Cho, the new leader of the Western Regional Medical Command at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He’s a cardiac surgeon who says he likes cheeseburgers, but in moderation.

Cho aims to build up Army programs that work to keep soldiers and their families healthier by emphasizing sleep, nutrition and exercise. That’s been a priority for Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, who also is a past commander of the Western Regional Medical Command.

The goal acknowledges that the Army is shrinking by tens of thousands of soldiers from its Iraq War peak but still must maintain a deployable force.

“As ‘Big Army’ winds down, the health of each soldier is more valuable,” said Horoho, who traveled to Lewis-McChord for the ceremony that marked Cho’s command.

Cho succeeds Maj. Gen. Richard Thomas, who is moving on to the Defense Health Agency in Northern Virginia.

Thomas got a standing ovation at his goodbye. He thanked the medical command’s civilian employees for guiding the agency through the forced federal budget cuts known as sequestration and the recent partial government shutdown.

Both crimped paychecks for Defense Department civilian workers. Horoho expects more budget battles in the months and years ahead. That’s what she referred to as “dynamic uncertainty” for the Army Medical Command.

“You’ve proven your value many times over,” Thomas said to the civilian medical employees at the ceremony. “We cannot fight without you.”

The Western Regional Medical Command oversees Army hospitals in 20 states, including Madigan Army Medical Center.

Last year, complaints about behavioral health diagnoses at Madigan led to Armywide changes in how the military evaluates post-traumatic stress disorder. Horoho and Thomas were at the crux of those changes, with Horoho issuing new criteria for PTSD diagnoses and Thomas managing investigations at Madigan.

Cho comes from a military family. His father, Shin Cho, was a lieutenant in the army of the Republic of Korea during the Korean War. Cho’s brother is an Army surgeon.

The Army says Cho is the first active duty soldier of Korean decent to earn the rank of brigadier general. He has led a combat hospital in Iraq and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Adam Ashton
Tacoma News Tribune