Secretary of Defense Speech

Statement on Military Health System Review


Four months ago, I ordered a review of DOD's Military Health System.  It focused on access to care, quality of care, and patient safety.  

This review was led by our Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bob Work, who's to my left.  And I want to thank Bob, and I want to thank his team and all those here today and their teams for their leadership, for their efforts, and for the work that they've put in to this review.  We all feel very strongly that there is nothing more important for our people than the health and well-being of our people and their families.  

Our Military Health System is a large, global system with more than 50 hospitals and 600 clinics in America and around the world.  It offers services ranging from battlefield medevac to pediatrics and dentistry.  Through direct and purchase care, it serves 9.6 million people, including servicemembers, retirees, and their families.

Combat care is and must always be a central focus for the Military Health Care [sic] System.  It's helped save and rehabilitate the lives of thousands and thousands of Americans who have worn our nation's uniform.

But our Military Health System has responsibilities beyond the battlefield, and our review focused on non-combat care.

The review found pockets of excellence -- significant excellence, which we're very proud of -- and extraordinary doctors, nurses, and staff who are deeply dedicated to the patients they serve.  They are reflected by our three Surgeons General, who you will hear from in a few minutes.  It also found gaps, however, and facilities it must improve.

The bottom-line finding is that the Military Health Care System provides health care that is comparable in access, quality, and safety to average private-sector health care.

But we cannot accept average. We cannot accept average when it comes to caring for our men and women in uniform and their families. We can do better. We all agree we can do better.  The surgeons general and their staffs and men and women who care for our people know that more than any of us and are dedicated to doing better.  

Even small lapses in care can lead to devastating and heartbreaking losses or injuries. We must hold the entire Military Health System to the same exacting standards that we demand of our combat missions.

So today, I'm directing the Department of Defense to take steps to ensure that the entire Military Health System is not merely an average system, but a leading system, because that's what America's troops and their families deserve.

These are first steps, but they will help our hospitals and clinics foster a stronger culture of safety, quality, and accountability - a culture that must become second nature to all who execute DOD's critical health care system and our mission.

Today I'm directing all health care facilities identified as outliers in the categories of access, quality and safety to provide action plans for improvement to Deputy Secretary Work within 45 days.

I'm directing the head of the Defense Health Agency, Dr. Woodson - who is here with us today - and all our Surgeons General, to ensure that we have unified standards for purchased, as well as direct care, and to establish a mechanism for patients and concerned stakeholders to provide ongoing input.

I'm also directing the Department's health care leadership to establish a system-wide performance management system that will help scrutinize lapses and monitor progress.  And to enhance transparency, I'm requiring that all currently available data on our health care system be made publicly available.

By the end of the year, DOD will have a detailed implementation plan to ensure that the Military Health Care System becomes the top performing system we all expect it to be and want it to be.

These steps are the beginning, not the end, of an effort to improve our military health care system.  And I will receive regular progress updates from DOD's health care leaders.  

We have the finest military in the world.  Our men and women in uniform and their families deserve the finest health care in the world.

We all agree on that.

I know our military health care providers agree with this and every part of it.  And I thank them for what they do, what they continue to do every day…because they, more than anyone else, are committed to offering the best care for our people.

I know that Admiral Kirby was out here a couple minutes ago and laid out the format that we'd like to proceed with and that is to have our three Surgeons General and the head of our health care system, Dr. Woodson, along with Dr. Junor and our Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bob Work, take questions as to how we're going to implement the recommendations that came out of the review, what are the next steps, and some of the other questions that you may have in regard to this review.

 Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you.