The Department of Defense has issued a proposal to Congress that plans to restructure 50 military hospitals and clinics. If the proposal is approved, Army Health Clinic Fox-Redstone is one of many clinics that would no longer provide care to military retirees and active-duty families.
This means that only active-duty soldiers will be treated there, but the families of those active-duty soldiers and military retirees will no longer be able to use those facilities. However, the 45,000 beneficiaries and retirees who use the pharmacy will still be able to fill prescriptions there.
The report has caused many current and former military service members in our community to voice their concerns.
"The influx of people moving to this area because of the wonderful growth opportunities we have... this would be the worst time to be able to consider closing an installation health care facility that supports so many people," said Bill Holtzclaw, a retired Marine whose family has used Fox Army Health Clinic for 17 years.
This is part of the Department of Defense efforts to support what they call "active-duty readiness." As of 2019, officials say Fox Army Health Center served more than 13,000 enrolled soldiers, families, and retirees. The concept of lifelong healthcare for service members and their families has always been part of the military concept.
"If you're an active duty service member, one of the things that allows you to focus on your mission, is knowing that your family's taken care of," Holtzclaw said.
All those who are not active duty themselves but are currently using the clinic will now have to use their Tricare Insurance Civilian Provider Network. Transitioning all these patients from medical treatment facilities to private doctors could take years, but the DOD says if the local Tricare network cannot provide access to quality care, they'll revise plans.
Even if this saves money in the short term, advocates say the long term effects can only be negative.
"When the JROTC program hear that they're not going to be able to get their treatments, especially their families, that's going to pose a problem for them enlisting into the military," said Charlie Miller, president for the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter.
"Retention and recruiting are certainly struggling right now for a variety of reasons, this isn't going to make it any easier," Holtzclaw said.
Some potential problems: Not all doctors accept Tricare insurance, and many doctors in the Huntsville area are no longer accepting new patients.
"Injecting another 13,000 people possibly on top of that is going to stress it, and it's not going to be good for anybody," Holtzclaw said.
Regardless, these people will now need to find somewhere new for their medical treatment.
"We've done the things that we've been called to do, and I think that we need to be taken care of as well," Miller said.
This proposal is just a recommendation right now. Even if Congress does confirm the recommendation, the restructuring plan would take years to phase into place.