President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper both said Monday they oppose efforts to slash military healthcare by some $2.2 billion.
The proposal by Pentagon officials “has been firmly and totally rejected by me,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“We will do nothing to hurt our great Military professionals & heroes as long as I am your President. Thank you!” he added.
Esper issued a separate statement later in the day saying he has not “directed nor approved any cuts to our military healthcare system in our future budgets.”
“Furthermore, I will not allow any reductions that would harm access to quality medical care for our service members, their families, and our larger DoD community,” Esper said.
An anonymously-sourced report from Politico claimed Pentagon officials are preparing a plan that would slash over $2 billion from the Military Health System.
Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesman, said a department-wide review is being conducted by Chief Management Officer Lisa Hershman to identify $5 billion in cuts from the Fourth Estate, or parts of the department that are not military services. The money would be reinvested in “military modernization,” he said in a social media statement.
“Many changes to the military healthcare system are being driven by Congress, which directed them in law in recent NDAAs,” Hoffman added on Sunday, noting that Esper has not been briefed on or seen any of the recommendations.
“The bottom line is that health care for our service members, their families, and retirees is not at risk and efforts by two anonymous sources to create a panic is misleading,” according to the spokesman.
The health system serves 9.4 million people, including active-duty service members and their families.
Senior defense officials told reporters in February that $5.7 billion was freed up through the system-wide review.
Some of the cuts came from the Fourth Estate while others came from ending missions. The money was being redirected to “more important priorities” including research into hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, and space, the Pentagon said in a summary of the call.
The story about the possible cuts this week drew criticism from veteran’s groups and Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
“When will people realize the Trump administration does NOT care about our military service members?! We’re in the midst of a pandemic and they want to cut healthcare?!” VoteVets, a group that says it represents veterans, said on Twitter.
Biden told Trump and Esper in a social media post that “it’s a president’s job to protect the health and safety of our troops and their families,” adding: “Gutting the military health care system—no less during a global pandemic—is unacceptable.”