Army Secretary Calls for Slowdown of Military Health Care Merger

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy speaks at the Brookings Institution.
Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy speaks with Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, during a speaking engagement in Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2020 (U.S. Army/Sgt. James Harvey)

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy raised concerns Wednesday over the speed with which the services' clinics and hospitals are transitioning to the Defense Health Agency's management.

The timeline to consolidate the services' medical treatment facilities under the Tricare managing agency was shortened last year from four years to three. McCarthy told reporters in a Defense Writers Group that this change, meant to let the services focus on delivering care and maintaining military readiness, might be happening too quickly.

"It's about pacing. You are bringing thousands of people and functions to one organization," he said. "Like all mergers and acquisitions, there are cultural dynamics, there are synergies you are trying to achieve and, if you do it too fast, you can make a mess."

Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, the DHA director, said earlier this year that the timeline was shortened to avoid problems caused by a prolonged transition, which would reduce staff in the services' headquarters.

Related: Military Patients Will 'Absolutely Positively' See Better Care After Merger, DHA Head Says

McCarthy referred to his experience while working for former Defense Secretary Robert Gates during the Walter Reed Medical Center's consolidation with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda in 2011.

"You were merging Walter Reed with Bethesda during the height of violence in the Iraq campaign, and they made some terrible mistakes that affected the health care of wounded personnel," he said.

McCarthy said it's "incredibly important" to understand the DHA's operating model and how responsibilities will transfer.

"It's not altogether clear how that is coming together," he said. "We still are a nation at war. We have 1.2 million people in uniform, and this is just too important to get it wrong."

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

-- Matthew Cox contributed to this report.

Read More: Pensacola Heroes: How 2 Marines and an Injured Sailor Saved Lives During Mass Shooting

Story Continues