SIERRA VISTA — While the Pentagon announced last month that medical and pharmaceutical services at more than three dozen military installations will soon be available only to active duty personnel, the changes will not affect local retired military and their families.
Fort Huachuca and other military installations in Arizona are not among the 38 facilities across the country that will be struck by the Pentagon’s decision.
That’s good news to Tim Kirk, a retired U.S. Army colonel who is also the director of the Warrior Healing Center in Sierra Vista. Both Kirk and his spouse go to Fort Huachuca to get medical care and their prescriptions.
“I go to the Apache Ridge Clinic (on Fort Huachuca) and to the pharmacy,” Kirk said Thursday. “I usually share the waiting room with other (military) retirees from the area.”
Kirk explained that one of the benefits of getting medical and pharmaceutical services on post is that there are no co-pays either at the clinic or the pharmacy. There is a co-pay if you use the insurance outside Fort Huachuca, he said.
“It’s a big benefit for military retirees,” Kirk said. “When you’ve put in 20 years of service in the military, you get Tricare For Life coverage.
“It’s also a nice benefit (to receive medical care on post) for serving your country,” Kirk added.
The announcement from the Pentagon came in early February, according to an article in military.com. Officials said military families and retirees receiving care through 38 military hospitals nationwide would “soon be forced to go off-base to civilian medical providers instead, and some pharmacies at those hospitals will stop providing drugs to those not on active duty,” the Feb. 19 article states.
The changes are part of a review of military hospital operations and a system consolidation under the Defense Health Agency ordered by Congress in 2016, the article states. Aimed at increasing a focus on military readiness, the consolidation includes a plan to cut about 18,000 uniformed medical personnel and increase focus on active-duty support.
“The military health system is in the midst of implementing several significant reforms aimed at building a more integrated and effective system of readiness and health,” said Tom McCaffery, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs in the military.com article.
“We reviewed all facilities through the lens of their contributions to military readiness — that includes MTFs (being) operated to ensure service members are medically ready to train and deploy. It also means MTFs are effectively utilized as platforms that enable our military medical personnel to acquire and maintain the clinical skills and experience that prepares them for deployment in support of combat operations around the world.”
The move will touch 200,000 retirees and active-duty family members. Of those, Pentagon officials said, about 80,000 are active-duty family members, while the remaining 120,000 are retirees and their families, military.com reported.
Pentagon officials said military readiness, not cost savings, is the primary reason for the changes. But shifting retirees and active-duty families into the community for care with civilian medical providers should save money. For 2021, that savings is expected to reach about $36 million, officials said according to military.com.
While retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Stuart Carter of Sierra Vista does not personally go on post for his medical care, he knows some military retirees who do. Carter, who is also the president of the Air Force Association of Arizona, said that when he learned of the Pentagon’s announcement, he wanted to make sure that it would not affect any of the military facilities in Arizona.
“I have 3,000 members and I wanted to make sure that they were happy,” Carter said.
Retired U.S. Army First Sergeant Glenn Hohman, also of Sierra Vista, said he had learned of the Pentagon’s decision as well. Hohman said he goes to a primary care doctor at Fort Huachuca once a year.
“But my daughters, who are teenagers, go to the doctor there year-round,” Hohman said.