WASHINGTON — Calling health care for wounded warriors a top Defense Department priority, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged Congress today to support the request for $2.2 billion in the fiscal 2011 defense budget to improve treatment and other services.

The request, up $100 million from current levels, will fund a dramatic increase in staff mental-health professionals while advancing research on traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress that have become signature wounds from Afghanistan and Iraq operations, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee.

“We know the strain of frequent deployments causes many problems, but we won’t yet fully understand … how, or to what extent,” he said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates underscored the department’s focus on caring for wounded and ill servicemembers during a Feb. 1 Pentagon news conference in which he unveiled details of the fiscal 2011 budget request and Quadrennial Defense Review.

The budget request includes a 9 percent increase in overall health-care funding, with additional money to provide wounded warrior support to an additional 1,000 servicemembers.

As it sustains health benefits for wounded warriors and enlarges the pool of medical professionals to support them, the Defense Department will broaden electronic information sharing with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ease their transition to civilian life, Gates told reporters.

This includes a seamless transition process for wounded warriors leaving the military, and the creation of Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records that improve servicemembers’ and veterans’ care by ensuring their health-care providers have full access to their medical histories.

The fiscal 2011 budget request also provides funding to maintain first-rate hospitals and facilities and trained staff for the Army’s Warrior Transition Units that support wounded troops and their families, defense officials noted.

It also supports improvements in the disability evaluation system, with the goal of establishing a simpler, faster and more consistent process to determine which wounded warriors may continue their military service, and helping them become as independent and self-supporting as possible.

Robert Hale, the Pentagon’s comptroller and chief financial officer, told bloggers yesterday the investments represent the department’s unwavering commitment to supporting its wounded warriors.

“Secretary Gates has said that, other than winning the wars themselves, nothing is more important than taking care of these brave people who have sacrificed for us,” Hale said. “So taking care of people [is] our highest priority.”

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, called the department’s emphasis on its people – both through its budget requests and the QDR – a “strategic imperative.”

“Our people are our most important pillar of America’s defense,” she told the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday. “And the QDR outlines a range of efforts to ensure that their needs are met, from working to ensure a more sustainable deployment tempo for our troops, to enhancing mental and physical care for our wounded warriors, to ensuring that families are cared for as they make significant sacrifices.”

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