Armed Forces News

Service members, retirees and family members should still receive the same quality of health care as the move to consolidate medical activities under one umbrella organization continues, health officials told a panel of lawmakers.

Speaking at a Dec. 5 hearing, Assistant Defense Secretary for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffrey and Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place, director of the Defense Health Agency (DHA), told members of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee that the new arrangement would deliver “a more standardized, dependable, high-quality experience.”

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Commanders of the individual armed services no longer would have to manage their health care facilities, McCaffrey and Place said. Thus, they would be able to channel their resources toward mission-critical areas – manning, training, and equipping the force, Health.mil reported.

“We are incorporating the findings of decades of reviews and studies that suggest was to address the MHS’s [Military Health Service], siloed nature that has produced undesired variability and too little standardization,”McCaffrey and Place said.

Such “fragmentation”does little to foster readiness and serve patients’ needs, they said.

All hospitals and military treatment facilities (MTFs) should be merged under the command within the next two years. On Oct. 25, DHA took control of all stateside MTFs. The Defense Department now operates 475 hospitals and 248 dental clinics worldwide.

“In the long run, our patients will see significant benefits from this reform,” McCaffrey and Place said.

Lawmakers were particularly interested in plans to cut medical-personnel strength by roughly 18,000 positions. McCaffrey and Place told them that the decision to do so was made only after each service conducted thorough assessments of their staffing needs, with a keen eye toward ensuring that readiness would not be compromised.

Joining McCaffrey on the witness panel were the services’ surgeons general — Army Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle, Air Force Lt. Gen, Dorothy Hogg, and Navy Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham. Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff Surgeon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also was present.

Responding to a request for specific numbers by Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., Hogg responded that the Air Force planned a reduction of slightly more than 4,000. Dingle said the Army would reduce staffing by 6,935, while Gillingham put the Navy figure at 5,386.

The change is predicated on more than simply reducing costs, McCaffrey told the lawmakers.

“I think Congress recognized in 2017 that we could be more effective as a military medical enterprise if we didn’t have four separate systems,”he said. Once the process is complete, he said, the DHA should be “even more successful in meeting the mission.”