Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, Surgeon General of the Army, spoke at Tripler Army Medical Center in July 2021.

Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, Surgeon General of the Army, spoke at Tripler Army Medical Center in July 2021. Sgt. 1st Class Caleb Barrieau

Cutting Thousands of Medical Personnel Won’t Reduce Access to Care, Army Surgeon General Says

Even though behavioral health resources are already “strained.”

Army families are worried about reductions in medical services, particularly in mental and behavioral health, as the service begins to shed thousands of medical billets. But the Army surgeon general told questioners at the AUSA conference on Tuesday that service leaders had worked to ensure that cuts won’t reduce access to care.

Back in 2019, the Pentagon announced plans to cut some 17,000 medical billets, but that number was reduced after groups such as the Military Officers Association of America pushed back. The Army, which originally claimed it could trim 6,900 billets, shrank its cost-cutting efforts to 2,900 billets.

“It was the chief and the secretary who said, ‘You know, General Dingle? No, I'm not going to do that because I'm impacting the readiness of our soldiers and our family members’” Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle said of Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. 

Dingle said the remaining cuts won’t affect the services that troops need most. 

“Those 2,900 that have been identified are from my [Medical Command] billets, and those are low-risk roles that do not impact any of the services that are being provided at any medical treatment facilities,” he said. 

Specifically, Dingle said, no behavioral health cuts are being made in remote areas and overseas billets that have shown a particularly high need for that type of care.

“That's where myself, as the Surgeon General, have leveraged our uniformed personnel to fill some of those civilian hard-to-hire billets,” Dingle said of augmenting behavioral health services in areas of high demand. 

The majority of questions asked during the Association of the United States Army Family Forum with Army senior leaders were related to mental health and behavioral health services. Suicide remains the top concern among family members, although Wormuth touted improvements in the numbers during the conference. 

Many of the questioners voiced concerns over the lack of access to behavioral health care. Replied Wormuth: “One of the biggest challenges we have, nationwide, is a shortage of behavioral health resources. The pandemic has been hard on everyone. One of the biggest things we need to keep working on is increasing the capacity of the behavioral health resources that are available for our folks.”

The chief of staff, meanwhile, urged family members to keep speaking out. 

“If we’re not getting you the health care you need, we need to know that,” McConville said. “We will move our medical personnel to provide that type of care where you need it…We have a sacred obligation to provide medical care to our soldiers, our families, and our soldiers for life and we're committed to doing that.”