Chair McCollum Statement at Fiscal Year 2022 Defense Health and Medical Readiness Hearing

2021-05-25 11:10

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chair of the Defense Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on Fiscal Year 2022 Defense Health and Medical Readiness:

This morning the Subcommittee will receive testimony on the Defense Health Program and Medical Readiness.

We welcome five witnesses:

  • Dr. Terry Adirim, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs;
  • Lieutenant General Ronald Place, Director, Defense Health Agency; 
  • Lieutenant General R. Scott Dingle, Surgeon General of the U.S. Army;
  • Rear Admiral Bruce L. Gillingham, Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy; and 
  • Lieutenant General Dorothy A. Hogg, Surgeon General of the U.S. Air Force.

Our witnesses have extensive experience with military medicine and distinguished careers serving our country.  

On March 5, 2020, the Subcommittee held its last in-person hearing just prior to shutting down due to the pandemic.  

Many of our witnesses today were present for that hearing on defense health – Dr. Adirim, this is your first time before the Subcommittee and we welcome you.  

While much has changed since last March due to COVID-19, there are still many pressing issues impacting the military health system as it undergoes its most significant changes in decades – reforms that began prior to the pandemic, which now we hope are reviewed in light of the pandemic.

We are holding this hearing days before the anticipated release of the President’s Budget Request for fiscal year 2022.  

It should be noted that there have been serious questions and concerns on how medical reforms have been accounted for in previous budget submissions.  

We hope to see adequate justification and detail across the spectrum of the military health system request - from medical readiness to beneficiary care.

Understanding that we do not yet have the FY22 budget request before us,we hope our witnesses can address our questions and concerns to the extent possible on the many topics to be covered today.  

Given the tight timeframe we will have to write the bill, I ask that you be prepared to respond to members on any specific budget questions that are asked today immediately after the full request is submitted.
It would be helpful to hear an update on execution of Defense Health Program budget during this fiscal year, given the projected shortfall you are facing.

We also look forward to hearing about the many reforms taking place across the military health system.  

We will want to hear how the experience of COVID-19 has been taken into consideration as the Department moves toward implementation of those reforms. 

Also, looking through a broader lens of lessons learned from COVID-19, we will want to hear thoughts on what the Department’s role is and should be in assisting other Federal agencies in dealing with future epidemic or pandemic outbreaks.

We have the Services’ Surgeons General before us to discuss medical readiness activities and priorities within each of the military branches. 

Part of medical readiness requires that we have a fit and able-bodied force to serve and deploy as necessary.  

Reports have indicated that only 26% of 17 to 24 year olds are qualified to serve in the military, and that one quarter of all youth would be disqualified from serving based on being overweight or obese.  

As the Services continue to see recruiting and retention challenges based on height-weight standards, it would be good to hear whether our panelists see this as a national security concern, and if so, what can be done about it. 
We also know that in any future conflict, the military must consider survivability during future warfare against peer or near-peer competitors, as the “Golden Hour” may not be an option.  

This is especially the case if air and ground assets are unavailable to evacuate the wounded.  

We would also like to hear about how the right composition of medical research; medical education and training; and recruiting and retaining critical casualty care personnel is being addressed. 

New questions have also arisen from hearings over the last few weeks. For example, we have heard that approximately 60,000 Guardsmen lack health insurance.  

We also heard about a possible decrease of medical billets as the Services plan to shed those positions in favor of operational billets in support of a more lethal force.

If this is the case, where medical positions are being left deliberately unfilled, that would be quite concerning to me and members of this Subcommittee.

We do understand that the past year has presented a number of complicated challenges across the military health system, and I want to thank each of you for working in support of our service members and their families to ensure they are protected and provided with the best care available.  

With that, I thank you again for appearing before the Committee today to discuss these issues.   

117th Congress