Navy’s Top Officer Pledges ‘Closer Look’ at Planned Medical Billet Cuts

Navy’s Top Officer Pledges ‘Closer Look’ at Planned Medical Billet Cuts
Photo by Lisa Ferdinando/DoD

The Navy’s top officer told Congress his service needs to take a “closer look” at proposed military medical billet cuts, echoing MOAA’s long-stated request for a deeper analysis of the plans, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

 

“I think we learned a lot during COVID, it gave us a lot of insights into where there were likely friction points with respect to military health care reform,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said during last week’s House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Navy and Marine Corps budget. “I just don’t think that we have full insights yet on how to resolve all of those issues. We can see the leading edge of it, though, of some problems that presented during the pandemic.

 

“I know my answer is not completely satisfactory but, just to be honest, it’s something that we do owe ourselves and our families to take a closer look at.”

 

[RELATED: MOAA’s Legislative Priorities: Protect the Value of the Military Health Care Benefit]

 

The admiral’s remarks were in response to a question from Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), who expressed concerns about reduced staffing at Naval Hospital Bremerton, which is in his district, saying he has heard from both servicemembers and military families about access to care challenges.

 

The DoD Section 703 report to Congress did not include Naval Hospital Bremerton among the military treatment facilities (MTFs) recommended for downsizing – it was deferred pending further assessment. Medical billet cuts are a separate effort from MTF restructuring, initiated by the services – not Congress – to shift resources to lethality roles.

 

MOAA and other advocacy groups have had almost no visibility on where proposed billet reductions would take place. Since securing a provision in the FY 2021 NDAA to halt the billet reductions and require additional DoD analysis and reporting, MOAA has continued to highlight concerns about cuts to military medical end strength.

 

MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), raised the issue in recent meetings with Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle and Dr. Terry Adirim, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, where he emphasized MOAA concerns about potential negative impacts to medical readiness and beneficiary access to care.

 

[RELATED: Defense Health Program Faces $1.8 Billion Budget Shortfall Due to COVID-19]

 

As part of the TRICARE for Kids Coalition, MOAA also sent a March 17 letter urging DoD leadership to reconsider planned cuts to military pediatricians.

 

“Loss of uniformed billets will almost certainly result in lack of access to medically necessary care in many communities, immediately and long term, for military children and their families” said the letter, sent to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

 

[READ THE FULL LETTER]

 

MOAA is encouraged to hear Navy leadership acknowledge the need for more analysis on potential impacts of medical manpower reductions. As we wait for the release of the administration budget request to learn specifics on the future of medical billet cuts, we will continue our advocacy efforts to ensure medical readiness and beneficiary access to care are secure.

 

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About the Author

Karen Ruedisueli
Karen Ruedisueli

Ruedisueli is MOAA’s Director of Government Relations for Health Affairs and also serves as co-chair of The Military Coalition’s (TMC) Health Care Committee. She spent six years with the National Military Family Association, advocating for families of the uniformed services with a focus on health care and military caregivers.