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Dr. Bud Mayer, Former ASD/HA, Dies

Military Health System

A committed public servant, veteran of the Korean War, and an outstanding physician and psychiatrist, Dr. William “Bud” Mayer passed away this week, on the evening of Feb. 11. Mayer, who served as the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs from Nov. 18, 1983, to Apr. 21, 1989, was one of the Military Health System's greatest leaders and made exceptional contributions to military medicine – always keeping the best interests of service members at heart.

What was probably Mayer's earliest contribution to military medicine took place during the Korean War when, as a young major attached to Brooke Army Medical Center, he studied the records of more than 4,000 returning prisoners of war to analyze Russia's “new weapon of control” – brainwashing. His groundbreaking lecture, delivered in October of 1956 to a group of his peers and supervisors at the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory in San Francisco, began his career in military medicine.

He was later recruited by former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to improve the military's medical system. He did that with great success and restored the vitality of DoD's medical readiness for combat operations, which suffered greatly after the Vietnam War. In doing so, he completely changed the motto of military health care.

“Our primary mission,” said Mayer in December of 1986, “is to answer the question: Are we ready to go to war?”

During a time when the military medical system preferred recruiting family practitioners to physicians ready for combat medicine – in order to fill the peacetime needs of treating service members and their dependents – Mayer successfully redirected the goal of military medicine. As a result, he began shifting the responsibility of military family care and peacetime burden to civilian facilities and doctors. This initiative inevitably resulted in a complete revamping of what was formerly known as the CHAMPUS program into today's military managed health care program, TRICARE.

Mayer made many great strides in making the Military Health System what it is today. In addition to giving the DoD a medical force ready for war, he began to address ways the Reserves could recruit doctors, he fought to change archaic ideas and medical practices concerning alcoholism, and even worked with then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, to eliminate the military discount on tobacco purchases.
Mayer made improving military medicine his life's work. He lived it every day, he fought for it in uniform and in politics, and he wrote about it in his books “Beyond the Call” and “Memoirs of a Medical Icon.” He was an amazing man, a brilliant doctor, and a beloved leader.

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