Questions Remain as DoD Gets Ready to Cut 18,000 Medical Personnel

Ensign Sandy Link, a nurse at Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s Multi-Service Unit, flushes a patient’s intravenous tubing. (U.S. Navy photo/Jacob Sippel)
Ensign Sandy Link, a nurse at Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s Multi-Service Unit, flushes a patient’s intravenous tubing. (U.S. Navy photo/Jacob Sippel)

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, ALASKA -- Pentagon officials are keeping quiet on details surrounding a plan to cut 18,000 medical billets across the military.

The drawdown, included in President Donald Trump's 2020 budget proposal, announced earlier this year, would cut uniformed doctors, dentists, nurses, medics, technicians and support personnel from throughout the Army, Navy and Air Force. (The Navy provides medical support to the Marine Corps.)

But defense health officials have yet to say just how many of those spots will be completely eliminated and how many will be converted to contractor positions.

Instead, Maj. Gen. Lee Payne, who directs combat support for the Defense Health Agency (DHA), noted during a visit here Tuesday that cuts will be done on a location-by-location basis.

"In a particular location, we will be looking at, 'Can the network support that care?'" he said. "If we're sustaining significant cuts in military people, do we need to hire civilians or contractors to cover that care? We'll evaluate what's the best method for us."

About a quarter of the billets up for cuts are currently vacant, he said, and officials need to look at whether they want to eliminate them or fill them.

"You should be demanding customers," Payne said to military families. "We believe that having the DHA administer and manage those [military treatment facilities] is going to make us more effective at that."

A report from the Pentagon on the status of the consolidation of the military medical systems under DHA is due to lawmakers this summer. That reorganization was ordered by Congress in 2017.

Payne is visiting the state as part of the local rollout of the system's new electronic medical record program, known as MHS Genesis. Following his visit to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Payne headed north to Fort Wainwright for meetings at the medical facility there.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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