'A disgrace': Pentagon weighing $2.2 billion in cuts to military healthcare after passage of $740 billion budget

'A disgrace': Pentagon weighing $2.2 billion in cuts to military healthcare after passage of $740 billion budget
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper delivers a speech during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 18, 2019. The ASC Conference is a professional development seminar that offers the opportunity for Department of Defense personnel to participate in forums, speeches and workshops. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark)

Just weeks after both chambers of Congress approved a $740 billion Defense Department budget for fiscal year 2021, Pentagon officials are reportedly pushing for more than $2 billion in cuts to military healthcare over the next five years, potentially threatening the coverage of millions of personnel and their families amid a global pandemic.


Politico reported Sunday that the proposed $2.2 billion cut to the military healthcare system is part of a "sweeping effort" by Defense Secretary Mark Esper to "eliminate inefficiencies within the Pentagon's coffers."

"Ever notice that it's never a cut to things used to send kids to war?" asked Josh Moon of the Alabama Political Reporter. "It's always—always—a cut to the promises we make to get them to volunteer for us. What a disgrace."

According to Politico, "Esper and his deputies have argued that America's private health system can pick up the slack" for any servicemembers who lose coverage.

"Roughly 9.5 million active-duty personnel, military retirees, and their dependents rely on the military health system, which is the military's sprawling government-run healthcare framework that operates hundreds of facilities around the world," Politico noted. "The military health system also provides care through TRICARE, which enables military personnel and their families to obtain civilian healthcare outside of military networks."

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the push for billions in healthcare cuts shows once again that the Pentagon "puts more effort in protecting defense contractor profits than the lives of our troops."

Alongside Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Pocan co-sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have cut the proposed $740 billion budget by 10% without touching the military healthcare program. The amendment failed last month by a vote of 93-324, with 139 Democrats joining 185 Republicans in voting no.

A companion amendment in the Senate led by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also failed to pass.

Unnamed Defense Department officials told Politico that, if approved, the cuts "could effectively gut the Pentagon's healthcare system," adding to the rapidly swelling ranks of the uninsured. A study released last month by advocacy group Families USA found that at least 5.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Politico reported that the proposed $2.2 billion in cuts includes "eliminating all basic research dollars for combat casualty care, infectious disease and military medicine for [Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences], as well as slicing operational funds."

"What's been proposed would be devastating," warned one anonymous senior official.

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