Wartime Medical Care:

DOD Is Addressing Capability Shortfalls, but Challenges Remain

NSIAD-96-224: Published: Sep 25, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) efforts to reassess and improve its medical capabilities, focusing on: (1) DOD implementation of its Medical Readiness Strategic Plan (MRSP); (2) the services' medical reengineering efforts; and (3) the Military Health Services System (MHSS) 2020 project to identify future wartime medical system requirements.

GAO found that: (1) DOD and the services are making progress to correct the medical capability problems that have hampered recent military operations; (2) MRSP appropriately focuses on problems that GAO and DOD have identified; (3) DOD is placing increased emphasis on implementing MRSP, after a slow start; (4) many key MRSP tasks are unfunded or partially funded; (5) the services are reconfiguring their combat hospitals into smaller components and undertaking efforts to significantly enhance their current medical system capabilities; (6) the MHSS 2020 Project has not yet identified how military health capabilities should be funded and staffed in the future; and (7) until MHSS 2020 is completed, DOD cannot determine how compatible MRSP and service reengineering programs will be with future requirements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since issuance of the report, DOD has initiated a process to completely rewrite the Medical Readiness Strategic Plan. A new plan is expected to be finalized early in calendar year 1998. Although Health Affairs and Reserve Affairs submitted implementation plans as GAO recommended, they will have to redo these efforts to comply with the 1998 version.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, the Defense Modeling and Simulation Office, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs to develop and begin implementing plans to correct the medical capability problems noted in MRSP. Without such direction, these offices might continue to give low priority to medical readiness.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since issuance of the report, DOD has initiated a process to completely rewrite the Medical Readiness Strategic Plan. A new plan is expected to be finalized early in calendar year 1998. Although this action renders the specific steps in the recommendation no longer applicable, DOD convened a panel of subject matter experts between March and June 1997 to, among other things, assess whether actions taken corrected identified problems. This panel determined that some problems were corrected, some were not, and many others had been overtaken by events. As a result, the entire plan is being rewritten with some of the uncorrected issues carried over from the original plan and new issues identified. Also, the results of the MHSS 2020 project were considered during deliberations on the new plan.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs to: (1) assess the extent to which actions taken in response to MRSP have corrected medical capability problems; (2) take steps to resolve other unsettled problems; and (3) use the results of the MHSS 2020 project to guide the focus of MRSP and service reengineering initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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