By Martha Underwood

Killeen Daily Herald

TEMPLE Dr. Thomas Scott, the new chief of surgery, is making an impact at the Temple VA Hospital.

Dr. Scott was already a chief of surgery in Tucson and knew the VA system. He is an excellent leader, said Dr. Robert Ratliff, acting director of the Central Texas Veterans Affairs Health Care System. Dr. Scott is not shy about making change and holding people accountable.

Scott said he brings a fresh perspective and experience in managing quality of patient care to the department.

Ive seen the sacrifices of people over the years, Scott said. It means a lot to give comfort to them later in life.

Veteran troubleshooter

The VA has a long tradition for great service, not withstanding the last few years, Scott said. That is how we look in the eyes of our beneficiaries.

Scott served 24 years in the U.S. Air Force following medical school and retired as a colonel. It seemed natural to come out of the service and go into service for my brother and sister veterans, he said.

When stationed in Washington, D.C., at the Surgeon Generals office, Scott learned about journalistic inquiry into military health care.

We humans work in a human enterprise and do not want to bury our heads, Scott said. It is important to hear the element of truth in naysayers, because with criticism comes opportunity to improve.

Even in unjust criticism, there is a little something to learn, he said.

Scott brought up ABCs Primetime Thursday television expose of VA health care, which included negative comments about the Temple VA last spring.

If the people you cared for still trust and believe in you, that means a lot, Scott said. You cant believe everything you see on television.

Scott grew up in an Air Force family. He attended the University of Nebraska on a military scholarship. After a residency in general surgery, Scott took a fellowship at Harvard.

During a post-residency fellowship in Boston, Scott earned a masters degree in public health because the Air Force would not let me take courses without working toward a degree, he said.

Scott served as battle group surgeon aboard two aircraft carriers in the late 1980s while an assistant professor of surgery at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the nations only medical military academy.

Scott was deployed to the 317th Contingency Hospital in 1991 in support of Operation Desert Storm.

Family impact

Scott credits his great career mostly to accident. First, his Harvard degree prepared him for future leadership opportunities.

My best jobs that catapulted me into leadership were riding on my wifes coattails up to Washington, D.C., Scott said.

His Air Force officer wife, known professionally by her maiden name as Lt. Col. Mary Jo Ludvigson, was tapped to run the medical law branch in the judge advocate generals office in Washington, D.C. After searching Washington for an assignment to accompany her, Scott became chief of clinical quality management in the Air Force surgeon generals office.

I got thrust into policy and management, so I tried out the stuff I learned at Harvard University, Scott said. By the mid-1990s, they were hot topics.

After that, he held two command positions, including the 11th Medical Group, where his responsibilities included the Pentagon Flight Medicine Clinic, which provides medical support to the defense secretary, Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force chief of staff.

Scott was commander of the 355th Medical Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona before retiring in 2002.

Scott worked at the VA hospital in Tucson, Ariz., where he was promoted to chief of surgery.

Scott, his wife Mary Jo and son Tommy, 12, were recruited to Temple this summer.

Contact Martha Underwood at

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