The military health system is used by about 9.5 million active-duty personnel, military retirees and their dependents, and it operates hundreds of facilities around the world.
Two senior defense officials told POLITICO that the cuts would have effectively gutted the Pentagon’s health care system during a nationwide pandemic.
“A lot of the decisions were made in dark, smoky rooms, and it was driven by arbitrary numbers of cuts,” said one senior defense official with knowledge of the process. “They wanted to book the savings to be able to report it.”
Lawmakers and advocacy organizations, including VoteVets, swiftly criticized the Trump administration after the proposal came to light.
Top DoD leaders have argued that the country’s private health system can pick up the slack from cuts. But some Trump officials, including the health department’s top emergency response official, had previously warned the Pentagon against earlier cuts, saying the civilian health system would not be able to absorb the military’s potential needs.
The Pentagon noted that Esper had yet to be briefed on the proposal, part of the secretary’s Defense-wide review. “The [chief management officer], Lisa Hershman, will be bringing recommendations on a wide range of DoD budget issues (including healthcare) to the Secretary and his leadership team in the coming weeks where proposals will be reviewed,” tweeted Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman.
The move quickly threatened to become an issue during the presidential campaign.
“Secretary Esper and President Trump, it’s a president’s job to protect the health and safety of our troops and their families,” Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden tweeted on Monday. “Gutting the military health care system — no less during a global pandemic — is unacceptable.”