WASHINGTON — Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., urged the Pentagon this week to quickly complete its review of military hospitals following a recent investigation by The New York Times that found dangerous lapses in care and accountability at the facilities.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the review in May and a series of articles by the newspaper has since added urgency. The paper found the hospitals underperform and that deaths or injuries caused by apparent medical mistakes were often never investigated by the military as required.
Durbin, who chairs the Senate appropriations defense subcommittee, wrote to Hagel this week asking that the reported problems be addressed in the ongoing DOD review and that the defense secretary brief the committee as soon as possible. The review is slated to be completed this fall, according to Durbin’s office.
“In light of deeply concerning reports of subpar care and mismanagement within the Military Health System, I ask that all cases of permanent harm or death — so called ‘sentinel events’ — are thoroughly and impartially investigated,” Durbin wrote to Hagel. “The department’s ongoing review of the health care system should look carefully at the quality of care, in addition to ensuring that patient care is the system’s primary mission.”
The military health care system is one of the Pentagon’s biggest and fastest growing expenses. The department began studying last year ways to cut ballooning costs in a system of hospitals that cares for about 1.6 million active-duty troops and their dependents at bases in the United States and around the world.
The DOD began a comprehensive review of its health care in May. After obtaining internal documents, the Times reported in June that the hospitals make up a "system in which scrutiny is sporadic and avoidable errors are chronic."
Meanwhile, military treatment in many base hospitals, especially small facilities with underutilized staff, falls below the standards of care for civilian hospitals, the Times investigation found.
For example, military hospitals averaged almost double the rate of infant trauma during birth than civilian hospitals, according to the Times.
The revelations come as the separate Department of Veterans Affairs health care system is mired in a nationwide scandal for concealing long patient wait times and ignoring serious lapses in treatment at hundreds of facilities across the U.S.
In August, President Barack Obama signed off on an emergency $16.3-billion overhaul of the VA system, which cares for about 9 million beneficiaries, and is the largest health care system in the U.S.
The law includes $10 billion in new spending to give veterans access to private health care outside the VA.
A previous version of this story did not differentiate between a DOD study of modernization and health care costs began last year and a review of the quality of treatment in the military health care system started in May. It has been clarified.