Air Force Surgeon General briefs House members on priorities, modernization

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  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
Lt. Gen. Robert Miller, U.S. Air Force Surgeon General, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Defense about Defense Health and Medical Readiness on May 25.

Miller focused on ways the Air Force Medical Service has supported the Department of Defense and the nation. He also discussed his strategy to prepare for the next fight.

“In future conflicts, we cannot assume we will have the upper hand,” said Miller. “Advances in our understanding of human biology, digitization, communications, and artificial intelligence will enable Air Force medics to accelerate, change and win.”

During his statement, Miller specified his priorities - (1) generating high performing Airmen and Guardians, (2) enhancing joint and combatant commander capabilities, and (3) maximizing human capital and strategic resources.

“The AFMS is re-imagining the design and future of our readiness capabilities, such as aeromedical evaluation and critical care air transport teams,” said Miller. “We are exploring and challenging our previous decisions about the size and types of clinical teams, and how to best train and sustain their skills. We believe innovation and fresh ideas will enable us to be more resilient and expand those teams' capacity."

Subcommittee members asked a range of questions, from the relationship between the DOD and civilian facilities on trauma training, to the impact of military medical manpower reductions on readiness and beneficiary care. 

Several members, including the subcommittee's ranking member, Representative Ken Calvert from California, asked how the services plan to improve mental health care access. Miller highlighted several initiatives.

"[A key] way to increase access is filling in manpower where there's a gap. So, we are working with the [Defense Health Agency] to consider the privileging of specialists such as licensed professional counselors,...therapists,...psychologists, social workers, or other mental health workers in certain locations that might be a little more remote," said Miller. "Another way to address access is [with] something we call a 'targeted care model' where we are looking at ensuring that patients are getting to the right [type of] care at the right time...It's a pilot [program] that has been ongoing that has been very successful and has increased access for those patients in highest need that need to get...mental health [care]."

Representative Charlie Crist from Florida asked about the reversal of the transgender ban policy and how the services have implemented that reversal in their departments.

"All Airmen and Guardians going through a transition process are seen in a single unit for us in San Antonio, [Texas], at the Transgender Health Medical Evaluation Unit," said Miller. "That continues to be a successful, single point of contact. They have 374 Airmen that are in the process, of which 100 have transitioned and an additional 33 have had surgery based upon their unique needs and requests. And irrespective of what base that Airman may be from, having that single point of contact allows for consistency and then ongoing, follow-up [care],...if they so desire,...to meet with a specialist."

The subcommittee's chair, Representative Betty McCollum from Minnesota, closed the hearing thanking the services and the DHA for their work amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The full hearing can be viewed here.