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Shelby: Health Defense Program, highlights importance of Navy EPF ship built in Mobile

Shelby questioned witnesses during a defense appropriations subcommittee hearing.

Senator Richard Shelby during a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee. (GLENN FAWCETT/DOD)

Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and its subcommittee on defense, questioned witnesses during a defense appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Defense Health Program’s medical research investments and addressing warfighter health and readiness concerns.  

The four witnesses who testified in the hearing were Dr. Terry Adirim, acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs at the Department of Defense; Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, surgeon general of the U.S. Army; Rear Adm. Bruce L. Gillingham, surgeon general of the U.S. Navy; and Lt. Gen. Dorothy A. Hogg, surgeon general of the U.S. Air Force.

During the hearing, Shelby questioned Gillingham about how the Navy is adapting and further developing its medical maritime operations and how the multi-purpose Expeditionary Fast Transit (EPF) ambulance ship, or the EPF Flight II, built by Austal in Mobile, will increase its capabilities to provide medical care. 

In response, Gillingham expressed enthusiasm about the EPF ambulance ship and recognized its unique ability to quickly respond to vessels in distress and provide multiple capabilities, “filling a critical gap” and a high priority need for the Navy. 

Shelby’s opening remarks, as prepared, are as follows:

“I want to welcome our witnesses.  Thank you for being here today to review the Defense Health Program.

“The pandemic has tested our military and its health system profoundly and I would like to applaud the Defense Health Program’s work and achievements during this extremely trying time.

“Our warfighters are our greatest defense asset, and their readiness and capabilities depend on a strong and sustainable military health care system.

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“Our military’s health system is responsible for providing care to 9.5 million service members and their beneficiaries, who deserve the best quality of care we can provide.

“In order to guarantee that standard we must ensure that the system is appropriately resourced – something this Committee has prioritized.

“The military health system has undergone substantial transformation over the last several years and I look forward to hearing about the challenges each of you have faced in this transition, and how you have worked collaboratively to overcome them.

“In addition to providing health care, our military’s health system also conducts medical research on a wide variety of topics such as cancer, infectious diseases, traumatic brain injury, and burn research, to name a few.

“Funding for these important research efforts has grown from $210 million in fiscal year 1992 to nearly $1.5 billion last year.

“That is a substantial investment and one that does not take into account the billions of dollars provided annually to NIH to conduct research in many of the same areas.

“What’s more, the President’s budget request proposes to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health at NIH.

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“This new, $6.5 billion federally funded research agency will focus on cancer research and other diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

“With all of this seeming duplication of research dollars, I question whether DOD’s medical research investments are truly focused on addressing warfighter health and readiness concerns or simply investing scarce defense resources in medical research that is also underway at NIH.

“So, while we can all agree that this research is necessary, I hope our witnesses can provide a clearer explanation regarding what defense medical research dollars are doing that NIH funding cannot or is not.

“I look forward to the testimony of our witness.  Thank you.”

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