April Message from the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

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MHS Team:

As the nation faces a historic challenge to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,
military medicine is at the forefront of the battle to protect the health of
U.S. military forces and support the national response. You are playing a
critical role to deliver on the Secretary’s priorities to protect our
Service members, their families, and the workforce, while maintaining
military readiness and supporting the national COVID-19 response. Military
medicine has been at the front lines of the national response – bringing
unique, and agile expertise and rapidly deployable resources to the fight,
including martialing medical staffing and getting them to the place where
they can do the most good: treating patients. We’re mobilizing doctors,
nurses, and medical technicians, both Active and Reserve Component.

Thank you for being a part of our team, and for the long hours you are
putting in to keep our people healthy and safe, and to support our nation in
the fight against COVID-19. I wish to share some key updates as we work
together across the MHS and the Department to tackle this virus.

The pandemic is putting unprecedented pressure on the MHS. As a result, on
April 2 the Department decided to pause the MTF transition activities for 90
days. At the 45-day mark, we’ll reassess to determine the right time to
resume these important efforts. This pause enables the system’s full focus
on the COVID-19 response.

As we direct our attention and resources to meet the increasing military
medical needs from COVID-19, the Military Health System’s agility and
adaptability remain part and parcel to our success. Health Affairs, the
Services, the Office of the Joint Staff Surgeon, the DHA, and the Uniformed
Services University continue to focus on a range of efforts to support the
Department and our beneficiaries. We’ve worked closely with senior
leadership to implement a series of Force Health Protection policies that
provide DoD Guidance on protecting personnel, patient movement and
treatment, the use of personal protective equipment, and laboratory
diagnostic testing.

I issued a policy that began on March 31 directing military Medical
Treatment Facilities and Dental Treatment Facilities to postpone elective,
non-invasive, non-urgent procedures unless those procedures can be safely
performed and are deemed necessary for readiness or for a patient’s safety.
This policy aligns with actions being taken across the nation to conserve
vital healthcare resources to use in support of the national COVID-19
response. The policy has increased medical staff availability to meet MTF
demand, while supporting deployed medical assets and protecting our
patients, medical personnel, and communities from further exposure and
transmission of COVID-19.

The University’s and DHA’s COVID-19 Practice Management Guidelines,
TRICARE’s new Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy guidance, and new MTF
virtual health guidance are great examples of how the MHS is delivering for
our Service members, retirees and their families by adapting in real time to
increasing demands.

At the same time, facilities are leveraging advanced telehealth technology
to preserve health care service offerings for patients. In fact, the number
of Direct Care visits has not changed compared to February, thanks in large
part to the virtual care our providers are now offering. On March 30, more
than 35 percent of primary care appointments were conducted virtually, and
we expect the virtual health guidance to facilitate even more virtual care
offerings in the future, in order to continue providing high-quality care to
patients, even as the COVID-19 response continues. I commend MTFs and DTFs
for working hard to execute these changes seamlessly for our patients, and
in support of the whole-of-government efforts to conserve medical capacity
and resources.

Lastly, I’m pleased to congratulate the hundreds of fourth-year Uniformed
Services University medical students and graduate-level nurses who made
history being the first to graduate early. These new doctors and the nurses
who have completed advanced degrees are joining DoD’s COVID-19 response.
Thank you for your selfless commitment to serve our warfighters, patients,
and nation through military medicine. On behalf of the Military Health
System, welcome to the team!

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