April 10, 2024

Duckworth Secures Support from Defense Secretary Austin on Her Proposal to Improve Access to Quality Patient Care for Servicemembers and Their Families in the Indo-Pacific


[WASHINGTON, DC] – Combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)—a member of both the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC)—secured support from U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Lloyd Austin for a proposal she plans to push strongly to be included in the Fiscal Year 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) aimed at improving DoD medical readiness and ensuring servicemembers and their families have access to quality patient care throughout the Indo-Pacific region—whether during peacetime or in the event of a conflict abroad. Duckworth’s proposal would build on an existing framework that the DoD already has with the Republic of Korea—an agreement that helps patients get quicker medical care without worrying about navigating a foreign healthcare system alone—to ultimately make medical care accessible to U.S. servicemembers and their families across the Indo-Pacific. Additionally, her proposal would ensure any future foreign hospital that the DoD selects and partners with will undergo an accreditation process to help ensure that the quality of care provided to our servicemembers abroad meets U.S. standards for patient care. Full video of Senator Duckworth’s remarks can be found on YouTube.

“It is our collective responsibility to ensure the Department of Defense has adequate military treatment facilities for servicemembers and their families during peacetime and in the event of a conflict,” said Duckworth during yesterday’s SASC hearing. “Should there be conflict in the region, getting patients to medical facilities abroad during the ‘golden hour’ where lives can still be saved will be difficult to achieve due to the great distances within the Indo-Pacific. I would like DoD to establish a medical readiness program in the Indo-Pacific to address current gaps in DoD’s medical capacity, allowing DoD to access accredited foreign medical facilities for patient care while also creating a medical readiness strategy in the region.”

“I agree with you,” said Secretary Austin in response to Senator Duckworth’s questioning. “I think Korea is a great example from talking to our troops and family members. They really appreciate having the ability to do what you described and take advantage of existing capability.”

In November 2023, the DoD Office of Inspector General released a report identifying repeated challenges that servicemembers and their families face when trying to access quality health care in the Indo-Pacific region, including staffing shortages and limited Tricare network providers. At certain military treatment facilities, many servicemembers are also confronted with limited specialty care, such as obstetrics and physical therapy, impacting their quality of life.

Duckworth is a proven leader when it comes to strengthening our relations with Indo-Pacific nations and improving security in the region—which she has done while successfully securing significant international investments in Illinois. Last year, Duckworth led an official visit to Japan and Indonesia as part of her continuing efforts to strengthen ties and reinforce support between allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region and the United States. And last summer, Duckworth led another official visit to the Indo-Pacific region again, visiting Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines to meet with government and business leaders and discuss opportunities that would increase cooperation in areas of mutual interest, such as economic investments, regional stability and national security.

Duckworth also successfully included a modified version of her Strengthen Taiwan’s Security Act in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to help Taiwan strengthen its military defenses.