WASHINGTON -- The military's top health officials testified before Congress Thursday on the ongoing transfer of healthcare systems to the Defense Health Agency.
In October 2018, the Army, Navy and Air Force started the process to transfer the administration and management of their military medical treatment facilities to DHA.
Phase II of that transition was completed this fall with roughly half of the MTFs in the continental U.S. now under the DHA. All other hospitals and clinics, including those overseas, will follow suit by 2021.
"We all share a common commitment to ensuring our Military Health System is manned, organized, trained and equipped to meet the needs of our services and the joint force," Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle told lawmakers.
Dingle, who was sworn in as the Army's surgeon general in September, represents over 130,000 Soldiers and civilians in Army Medicine.
Dingle and other military surgeons general joined defense health officials on Capitol Hill to testify before the House Armed Service Committee's subcommittee on military personnel.
In his testimony, Dingle said the transfer has been transparent and the Army continues to offer high quality and safe healthcare to Soldiers, their families and retirees.
"As we reform and reorganize, we are committed to providing ready and responsive health services and force health protection," he said.
Since coming into his new position, Dingle said he established five priorities -- ready, reformed, reorganized, responsive and relevant -- that will serve as guidelines during the transition.
He vowed the Army Medicine force will be ready to deploy, fight and win when called upon; be reformed in accordance with the law; reorganized to support Army modernization; responsive to the demands of multi-domain operations; and relevant to the rapid changes in modern warfare.
Informed decisions, he added, will also be made as the Army realigns almost 7,000 military medical billets to fill modernization requirements in its operating force.
A four-year plan is now in place for these reductions, with only unoccupied billets being removed this fiscal year to minimize impacts on access to care, officials have said.
"The Army is continually assessing the risks with changes to medical end strength," Dingle said. "Personnel changes currently under review are a necessary part of our modernization and our force shaping."
A total of about 18,000 uniformed medical billets across the Defense Department are slated to be affected throughout the transition.
"[We're] better organizing and integrating our direct care system to form a true unified medical enterprise that can improve our effectiveness and efficiency," said Thomas McCaffery, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
The changes, he said, are necessary to improve the readiness of medical personnel as well as combat forces who may one day face near-peer threats in contested areas.
"In order to advance these goals, we believe the Military Health System, like the rest of the Department of Defense, must adapt and change in order to carry out our mission in an ever-evolving security environment," he said.
Previous joint efforts to medical care have often seen success on the battlefield, such as historically high survival rates for combat wounds and low rates of disease and non-battle injuries, said Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, director of DHA.
"These successes reflect processes in which joint solutions contributed to these outcomes," he told lawmakers.
Today, the DHA has a broad range of combat support responsibilities. These include managing the Armed Services Blood Program, Joint Trauma System, public health, armed forces medical examiners, medical logistics, health information technology, and more, he said.
The agency also oversees MHS Genesis, a new electronic health record that provides upgraded, secure technology for patients to manage their health information. And further, it is enhancing TRICARE services for all beneficiaries.
"The DHA was established to strengthen our health system in both the deployed settings and in the fixed healthcare facilities around the world," Place said.
As it deals with people's health, Dingle said that Army Medicine will ensure a smooth transition of its operations over to DHA.
"For the service and sacrifice of our Soldiers and their families, we must get this right," he said. "This is our solemn obligation to our nation."