January 22, 2004
The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:
On October 21, 2003, I wrote to you requesting information about reports that military personnel at Fort Stewart, Georgia, were housed in sub-standard facilities while awaiting medical care in a back-logged Army medical system. Last week I received a response from Acting-Army Secretary R. L. Brownlee. A copy of Secretary Brownlee's letter is attached for your review, but among other things he notes:
The rapid call-up of Reserve Component Soldiers to support the Nation's tactical and strategic missions resulted in an unanticipated back-log of Soldiers in a medical hold status at major installations throughout the Army. . . . Our medical infrastructure has been augmented through increased use of medical support units, case managers, contract civilian medical support, and alternate Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities [emphasis added].
Last week, the Associated Press reported that more than 2,500 soldiers continue to wait for healthcare at a time when the largest rotation of U.S. forces in recent history is already underway and likely to lengthen the lists of service members on medical hold or needing post-deployment medical care.
Secretary Brownlee's correspondence and the continuing rotation of U.S. forces out of Iraq raise several important questions:
How many soldiers have been treated outside of the DOD healthcare system? How many soldiers have been treated by "contract civilian support?" How many soldiers have been treated in VA medical facilities?
I remain gravely concerned that these reports of continued delays for care by American soldiers, despite efforts identified by Secretary Brownlee, reflect a DOD hospital system that is under-staffed and under-prepared. The GAO identified serious shortcomings in the Department's pre-deployment health screenings last autumn. I am concerned that the delays in care identified here reflect serious problems in the overall vitality of the DOD healthcare system.
There is nothing more important than the care and well-being of our troops. They have earned this care and we must not fail them. I hope that you will give your personal attention to this issue of basic welfare for our troops. I look forward to your reply.
John F. Kerry