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Trump: I ‘firmly and totally rejected’ $2.2 billion proposal to cut military healthcare

President Donald J. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper participate in the Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
August 18, 2020

President Trump announced on Twitter Monday night that he had intervened to stop a reported proposal to cut $2.2 billion from the healthcare services provided to military members over the next five years.

Politico reported about the proposal claiming ‘Esper eyes $2.2 billion cut to military health care’ but a Pentagon spokesperson replied to the story saying that Esper had neither directed, nor even reviewed the reported proposal and that the Politico story was inaccurate and incomplete. The Politico story set off a firestorm with Democrats, including former senator and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who attacked Esper and Trump over the reported proposal.

Trump tweeted, “A proposal by Pentagon officials to slash Military Healthcare by $2.2 billion dollars has been firmly and totally rejected by me. We will do nothing to hurt our great Military professionals & heroes as long as I am your President. Thank you!”

Politico reported over the weekend that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering proposed cuts to the military health system (MHS) as part of an overall effort to reduce the Pentagon’s budget.

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The MHS covers roughly 9.5 million active-duty personnel, military retirees and their dependents through military hospital networks as well as through TRICARE, which allows military personnel and their dependents to use civilian healthcare resources outside the military healthcare network.

An unnamed source for Politico said the proposed MHS budget plan, “Imperils the ability to support our combat forces overseas.”

That Politico source said Esper’s moves also weaken the military’s ability to protect the health of active-duty troops stationed abroad. The source said, “They’re actively pushing very skilled medical people out the door.”

A Pentagon spokesman offered a defense of the budget proposal in the Politico story, saying the Pentagon was continuing to assess the idea.

“The MHS will not waver from its mission to provide a ready medical force and a medically ready force,” Pentagon spokesperson Lisa Lawrence told Politico. “Any potential changes to the health system will only be pursued in a manner that ensures its ability to continue to support the Department’s operational requirements and to maintain our beneficiaries access to quality health care.”

Following the release of the Politico report, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman still said, in a series of tweets, that the story was “inaccurate and incomplete.”

“Today’s story by @politico regarding cuts to military healthcare is inaccurate and incomplete. Secretary Esper has neither directed nor reviewed, let alone approved, any cuts to military healthcare in the upcoming budget and the FYDP,” Hoffman tweeted.

Despite the Pentagon’s comment, the news of the potential cut to the MHS sparked controversy. During the first night of the Democratic National Convention, Joe Biden tweeted criticism for Trump and Esper over the report.

“Secretary Esper and President Trump, it’s a president’s job to protect the health and safety of our troops and their families,” Biden tweeted. “Gutting the military health care system — no less during a global pandemic — is unacceptable.”

Esper responded to the report with his own tweet, saying no cuts to the MHS had been approved and reiterating the previous Pentagon claims that the story is inaccurate.

“As we stated yesterday in response to an inaccurate story, I have not directed or approved any cuts to our military healthcare system in our future budgets,” Esper said. “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. Our goal remains to ensure a medically fit fighting force and a highly trained and capable military cadre. — Dr. Mark T. Esper. Secretary of Defense.”

Trump’s tweet, which came several hours after Biden’s criticism, suggested he had rejected the budget cut idea at whatever stage it was being considered.