Former Surgeons General on Military Medicine Cuts
Military Medicine’s responsibility is to keep Soldiers, Sailors, Airman and Marines healthy so they can deploy and fight, to provide life-saving medical care on the battlefield and rehabilitate them after they are wounded. Military Medicine’s success has reduced the percent who have died of battlefield wounds to a historic low for the current 2 longest wars in American history - from nearly 20% in World War II, 17% during the Vietnam conflict to below 9% now.
Since the end of the draft in 1972 this has been accomplished by operating Graduate Medical Education programs in our largest military hospitals. These programs have provided a steady supply of well-trained military physicians, nurses, and other health professionals. These hospitals are also platforms for on-the-job and sustainment training for our enlisted combat medics who are the first responders on the battlefield. Military hospitals also provide care to family members eliminating the worry from warfighters that their family members will not receive needed care during their absence. In addition, medical research relevant specifically to the military, but not necessarily the civilian population, is also carried out.
Congress believes there are efficiencies to be gained by reorganizing the existing Army, Navy and Air Force medical systems into a single Tri-service Medical Agency. While this major reorganization moves forward, the Department of Defense, on the recommendation of the Pentagon budgeteers and the 3 services, has taken the opportunity to propose personnel cuts of as much as 20% in the military medical departments. This would significantly degrade Military Medicine’s current capabilities and threaten its ability to carry out its core missions.
As former Army and Navy Surgeons General, we strongly oppose these cuts until a thorough study of the potential consequences of these reductions are evaluated. The risks of relying on what is, at best, a superficial analysis of promised cost savings to drive large-scale reductions include reducing readiness by not having enough physicians, nurses and medics to care for those in warzones, eroding the training base (graduate education and other programs which generate the medical force), relying on uneven or unavailable civilian care for family members and affecting recruitment and retention. If even one of these “high risk, high regret” consequences unfolds, the percent of those dying from wounds will increase, the all-volunteer force will suffer, and we may be forced to again draft medical personnel – especially physicians!
Ronald R Blanck Harold Koenig Charles H Roadman II
Lieutenant General, US Army, Ret. Vice Admiral US Navy, Ret. Lieutenant General, US Air Force,Ret.
Former US Army Surgeon General Former US Navy Surgeon General Former USAF Surgeon General