President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Pentagon’s top personnel job pledged Tuesday that no military families will be left without reliable medical care as part of the consolidation of dozens of Defense Department hospitals in coming years.
“Some of these beneficiaries are going to move downtown (for medical appointments). Some may take years to do that. And some may never move,” said Under Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan, tapped to be the next Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
“No beneficiary is going to go without access to high-quality health care.”
Pentagon officials announced plans next month to realign nearly 40 military health clinics over the next few years, closing off most to everyone but active-duty members. About 80,000 military family members are expected to be affected by the moves.
Outside advocates have expressed serious concerns about the changes, and several lawmakers echoed those worries during Donovan’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday, noting the potential for disruptions in families’ health coverage.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said the planning “raises real questions” about the department’s commitment to take care of military families.
Donovan said the goal of the moves (part of a review of military hospitals mandated by Congress four years ago) is to improve both force readiness and military medical training. But he worked to assure members of Congress that those goals won’t hurt military families.
Before any individuals are shifted away from receiving care at the facilities, defense officials will conduct an assessment of regional health care offerings “to make sure the local market can handle the workload.”
If other services are not available, families won’t be forced out of the military sites, Donovan said.
As part of the moves, military officials also plan to reduce their medical workforce by about 18,000 uniformed personnel, with a focus on treatment of active-duty personnel and responding to their medical needs.
Donovan served as acting head of the Pentagon’s personnel office from December to earlier this month, when he was formally nominated for the role.
If he is confirmed — and lawmakers indicated he likely will be in coming weeks — he’ll be the first official under secretary to lead the office since Robert Wilkie left the post in July 2018 to become Veterans Affairs Secretary.
In the last five years, the office has had a permanent, confirmed leader for only about seven months.
Reporter Patricia Kime contributed to this story.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.