Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO

  • Last updated: 10 Dec. 2014 15:42

Founded in 1994, the Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO (COMEDS) is the Alliance's senior military medical body on military health matters. It acts as the central point for the development and coordination of military health standards and for providing medical advice to the NATO Military Committee.

The COMEDS is a key component of the Alliance’s military health support system, principally in the preparation phase of an operation. It facilitates the development of medical capabilities in individual countries and helps to improve the quality and interoperability of capabilities between them. Generally speaking, the military health support system contributes to preserving the “fighting strength” and to meeting the increasing public expectation of an individual’s right to health and high-quality treatment.

Countries that allocate forces to NATO retain responsibility for the provision of medical support to their own forces. However, upon Transfer of Authority, the NATO commander shares the responsibility for their health and will determine the medical support requirements. The NATO commander usually has more responsibility for multinational arrangements.

The military medical community provides medical care, preventive health care and psychological support for deployed troops, as well as veterinary support for the animals that work with them. It also provides essential combat service support, making it one of the key planning domains for operations.

  • Roles and responsibilities

    The COMEDS advises the Military Committee on military health matters affecting NATO and reports to it annually. It also acts as the coordinating body for the Military Committee regarding all military health related policies, doctrines, concepts, procedures, techniques, programmes and initiatives within NATO.

    In recent years, the COMEDS has come to represent the medical community at NATO Headquarters, in the NATO Standardization Office, as well as in specific areas such as defence planning and the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) field.

    COMEDS’ objectives include improving and expanding arrangements between member countries for coordination, standardization and interoperability in the medical field and improving the exchange of information relating to organizational, operational and procedural aspects of military medical services in NATO and partner countries.

  • Working mechanisms

    The COMEDS and the Chairman

    The COMEDS is composed of the chiefs of the military medical services of all member countries, the medical advisor of the International Military Staff, and the medical advisors of the two strategic commands – Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation. It is headed by a Chairman, who is elected by the committee in plenary session for a three-year period. The country of origin of the Chairman is also responsible for providing a Liaison Officer to NATO Headquarters who is the Secretary of the COMEDS.

    Meetings and their frequency

    The COMEDS meets biannually in plenary session and includes participants from member and partner countries. It also benefits from the participation of the following observers:

    • the chiefs of the military medical services from all Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative countries;
    • the co-Chairman Health of the Joint Health Agriculture Food Group;
    • a representative of the NATO Standardization Office, the Military Committee, the  Logistics Committee, the NATO Centre of Excellence for Military Medicine, the Human Factors and Medicine Panel of the NATO Science and Technology Organization and the CIOMR (Organization of Military Medical Reserve Officers).

    The COMEDS can also invite partners from across the globe, non-NATO troop-contributing countries and representatives from other organisations. It reports annually to the Military Committee.

    Subordinate working groups

    To assist in carrying out its tasks, the COMEDS has a number of subordinate working groups and panels which meet at least annually and address the following topics: military medical structures, operations and procedures (including planning and capability development); force health protection; military healthcare; standardization; CBRN medical issues; emergency medicine; military mental health; dental services; medical materiel and military pharmacy; food, water safety and veterinary support; medical training; military mental healthcare; medical naval issues; special operations forces medical support and medical information management systems.

    The Liaison Officer

    The Liaison Officer is the point of contact for military health matters for NATO Headquarters and individual countries. For practical reasons, he/she cooperates closely with the medical branch of the International Military Staff, which also supports his/her work. The COMEDS also cooperates closely with the medical branch of Allied Command Operations (ACO) and Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in developments regarding defence planning, capability development, standardization needs, training and education and certification.

  • Evolution

    Historically, health matters within NATO were regarded strictly as a national responsibility so the Alliance did not possess a high-level military medical authority for the greatest part of its existence. However, with the Organization’s increased emphasis on joint military operations came the need for coordinating medical support in peacekeeping, disaster relief and humanitarian operations. The COMEDS was therefore established in 1994.

    Today, the COMEDS is very active in developing new concepts of medical support for operations, with emphasis on multinational health care, modularity of medical treatment facilities, and partnerships. Increasingly, the developed doctrines are open to non-NATO countries and are most of the time released on the internet.

    In 2011, the COMEDS established the COMEDS Dominique-Jean Larrey Award. This is the highest honour that COMEDS can bestow. It is given in recognition of a significant and lasting contribution to NATO multi-nationality and/or interoperability or to improvements in the provision of health care in NATO missions within the areas of military medical support or military healthcare development The award is named after the French surgeon general of the Napoleonic imperial forces, who invented among other things the field ambulance, which helped to significantly improve medical care in the field.

  • Further information

    COMEDS Liaison Officer
    NATO Headquarters
    Logistics Resources Division
    International Military Staff
    1110 Brussels 
    Belgium