November Message from the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

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MHS Team:

On October 25, 2019, Deputy Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist signed a memo officially directing the transfer of authority, direction, and control of Military Treatment Facilities across the United States to the Defense Health Agency. While this formal directive marks an important milestone in the MTF transition process, it is only the most recent. The Military Health System’s work to date has resulted in significant progress to implement key provisions of the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. We transitioned the first phase of hospitals and clinics to the DHA last October and published more than 100 standardized policies since January 2018, with 29 more projected for publication by the end of the year. This progress reflects great momentum toward standardizing performance measures across the military medical enterprise and eliminating unnecessary variability, while moving to a more integrated system of readiness and health care delivery.

Earlier this month, I joined DHA Director LTG Ron Place and the Service medical leadership to share updates on MHS reform efforts with the Military/Veterans Service Organizations (MSO/VSO) Executive Council – a key stakeholder group that has long provided the MHS with invaluable insights into our beneficiaries’ experience within the health system. In recent months, MHS senior leadership has tackled head-on many of the issues MSO/VSOs have raised on behalf of beneficiaries. We reaffirmed to the MSO/VSO group that we’ve put in place a conditions-based, direct-support framework to ease the transition of MTFs to the DHA, which will help us to ensure we continue to provide our beneficiaries with access to quality care during this period of change.

I commend the teams across the MHS – at all levels – for your continued commitment to successfully implement the multiple reforms we have launched. Across Health Affairs, the Military Departments, DHA, the Uniformed Services University and the Office of the Joint Staff Surgeon, we recognize that success is a collective endeavor; our partnership to expeditiously solve problems, address gaps, and communicate successes and challenges remains key. A special thanks to senior leadership for forging this collaboration, and a warm welcome to Rear Adm. Bruce L. Gillingham, the Navy’s new Surgeon General and Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. We look forward to your contributions in your new role – welcome to the team!

Outside of reform, military medicine continues to advance the Department’s three lines of effort in support of the National Defense Strategy. Earlier this month I had the opportunity to witness this first-hand when I visited the USNS Comfort in Haiti as part of its five-month deployment to provide medical assistance in support of regional partners across the USSOUTHCOM AOR. It was an honor to join USSOUTHCOM Commander Adm. Craig Faller, Task Force 49 Mission Commander Capt. Brian Diebold, USNS Comfort MTF Commander Capt. Patrick Amersbach, and the entire USNS Comfort team as they carried out this critical medical mission. This mission is a great example of the strategic role military health care plays in advancing the NDS’s focus on building relationships with our partners and allies.

Looking ahead, I anticipate seeing many of you at next month’s AMSUS (the Society of Federal Health Professionals) annual convening at National Harbor, Maryland, where I’ll join other senior leaders to discuss our progress to date implementing significant organizational change across the MHS and to outline what’s ahead for the system.

For those who are able to take some R&R for Thanksgiving, I hope you are able to spend time with friends and family and return refreshed. As I reflect on this uniquely American holiday, I’m grateful for the men and women who protect and defend our freedom and for the families who support them, and I thank all of you for what you do to sustain the health system that supports them.


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