Consolidation of Military Medicine: A Looming Disaster?

Sometimes after some sort of disaster, personal or otherwise, people are known to say something to the effect of “well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Maybe it was; maybe it was not. Right now, the Army, Navy and Air Force are in the process of consolidating their medical operations. The Defense Health Agency will control medical care for service members, their families and retirees. Seems like a good idea, right? If there is only one administrative operation as opposed to multiple ones, then the efficiencies and cost savings are obvious. Everyone wins.


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) SOURCE: Military Times

When the Secretary of the Army publicly questions the speed of this consolidation plan, we should take notice. This recent article from Military Times discusses his recent remarks. While he may not be toeing the party line – and apt to catch flack for not doing so – he has a point. The Secretary points out that when Walter Reed Army Hospital and Bethesda Naval Hospital were consolidated a few years ago there were significant problems. If there was ever a merger or consolidation that should have gone well, that was it. The institutions were only a few miles apart. Both were tertiary medical facilities. The medical staffs had a long history of working together. Still, combining the two institutions ended up being a mess.


Combining much larger multiple operations will make the Walter Reed and Bethesda effort look easy. The potential problems could be enormous. Of course, we all know who suffers in all of this: Our service members and their families.


In our nationwide FTCA medical malpractice work, we review cases involving military medical care all the time. It’s often not impressive at all. Adding months or years of administrative chaos is not likely to help those millions of individuals who need and deserve appropriate medical care.


I hope that someone pays attention to what the Army Secretary is saying. We need to be careful in this process. There is another old saying that applies here: Better right than fast. Let’s hope someone sees the wisdom of that approach.

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