The military’s medical system is putting a pause on non-emergency surgeries and dental procedures as of March 31, according to a memo from the assistant defense secretary for health affairs released Tuesday, in an effort to shore up capacity for the Defense Department’s steady rise in coronavirus cases.
Exceptions include surgeries or procedures that will keep active duty troops, or reserve component troops on active orders, deployable, the memo said.
“As the Military Health System prepares for a surge in demand for health care services related to COVID-19, it is essential that we take prompt action, informed by location conditions and your risk-benefit analysis,” the memo reads, by preserving supplies, personnel and bed space.
The restriction will stay in place until the end of May. Exceptions to the pause include endoscopies, bronchoscopies, pulmonary function tests and sleep continuous positive airway pressure titrations, the memo said.
The policy affects 9.5 million beneficiaries of the military health system around the world, which includes service members, their families and military retirees.
“I recognize that our decisions impact service members and their families and I want them to know we are all in this together,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on March 17.
The move comes as the Defense Department is sending hospital ships and setting up field hospitals to support civilian medical centers.
As of Tuesday morning, there are 321 cases across the military, civilian, dependent and contractor communities within DoD, including 18 hospitalizations ― more than double the previous week’s numbers.
DoD operations 36 hospitals on its installations, though they are most suited to the communities they serve ― specifically, trauma injuries for service members in training, as well as family medicine.
“As many of you are aware, they are relatively small hospitals. They are not thousand-bed hospitals,” Brig. Gen, Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon, told reporters on March 16.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.