Military Coalition Asks Congress to Stop Downsizing of DOD Medical Facilities

A coalition of 25 military and veterans associations is urging lawmakers to reverse Pentagon plans to close or downsize military medical facilities as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads.

In February, the Pentagon announced it plans to close or downsize 50 medical clinics, including 12 on Air Force bases, to focus more on the “readiness of our operational and medical forces” and less on serving families and retirees. The Military Coalition, a collection of more than two-dozen groups including the Air Force Association, on May 18 sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of both the Senate and House Armed Services subcommittees on personnel urging them to adopt a provision in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to stop the downsizing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic demands medical readiness requirements be reassessed and updated with lessons learned from the whole of nation response to the coronavirus emergency,” the coalition wrote.

The Defense Health Agency told beneficiaries the plans to reduce the medical facility capacity are “paused” in light of the epidemic, but the coalition argues that is not enough. The impact of the outbreak cannot be accurately measured yet, especially on civilian facilities that will be required to take in retiree and military family patients.

“The civilian medical system is in flux with surging demand for coronavirus-related testing and treatment, while patients defer most other non-essential medical care,” the coalition wrote. “Major medical systems are laying off workers while smaller practices struggle to remain viable. It will be impossible to assess civilian capacity to absorb military patients moved out of MTFs for the foreseeable future.”

Additionally, the outbreak and resulting increase in treatment for related patients shows that “COVID-19 should prompt an analysis of the level of excess capacity required to prepare for the unexpected,” the coalition writes.