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Families, People Have Been Priority Since Start of COVID-19

Oct. 21, 2020 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

As early as January, Defense Department officials were aware of the possibility of a medical crisis due to the coronavirus, and began then to issue guidance to be ready, Matthew P. Donovan, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness said.

A man sits behind a table.  Behind him, a sign reads, "The Pentagon - Washington."
Matthew P. Donovan
In this file photo, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Matthew P. Donovan, participates in the 2020 Virtual Military Family Caucus Summit, October 9, 2020, at the Pentagon.
Photo By: Marv Lynchard, DOD
VIRIN: 201009-D-FW736-1014

"After consulting with Secretary Esper, by the end of January, I issued the department's first force health protection guidance addressing COVID-19 to protect our people," he said, speaking today during a virtual discussion with the Blue Star Families and the Association of Defense Communities.

Since that time the department has issued a total of 13 force health protection supplements to address issues impacting service members and their families. Along with maintaining the national security mission and supporting the whole-of-nation response to COVID-19, taking care of military personnel and their families have been a top priority for the department since the beginning of the pandemic, Donovan told families at the event.

He said in the face of the uncertainty the pandemic has brought, Defense Department policies that have empowered installation commanders with the authorities needed to make the best decisions for their commands based on local conditions.

A sailor stocks shelves in a store.
Shelf Stocker
A sailor helps restock shelves at the commissary on Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., March 19, 2020. In order to maintain mission readiness during the COVID-19 outbreak, commissary and Navy Exchange hours have changed to allow active duty families initial access to the goods and services provided.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Arnesia McIntyre
VIRIN: 200319-N-NJ416-023
Three children and their parents hold hands as they walk together.
First Day
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Dieterle and his family head to the Aviano Elementary School building at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Aug. 24, 2020. It was the first time students were allowed back to the schools since they closed in February due to COVID-19. Parents were given the option to bring their kids to school or continue virtual education from home.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. K. Tucker Owen
VIRIN: 200824-F-DV125-1071A

"These adjustments help people impacted by travel restrictions, extended expiration dates of military and dependent ID cards and allowed service members to carry over up to 120 days of accrued leave into fiscal year 2023," he said.

To help military personnel and their families, the department also declared commissaries and other facilities "mission essential" during the pandemic to ensure they could stay open, Donovan said.

For medical care, he said, the Defense Health Agency and TRICARE expanded and incentivized telehealth services to ensure beneficiaries were better able to receive necessary care, he said.

"[We also] extended licensed providers greater flexibility to provide health care services in other states and waived co-pays and cost shares for in-network telehealth services," Donovan said.

A soldier wearing a face mask works at a shelving system outside containing numbered bins.
Curbside Care
An Army pharmacy specialist prepares to dispense patients’ prescriptions at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center curbside pharmacy at Fort Bliss, Texas, April 6, 2020. The medical center implemented the curbside service as an additional health protection measure in an effort to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Michael L. K. West
VIRIN: 200406-A-CE061-008Y

To better support families during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to keep them abreast of support options, Donovan said, the department increased military community and family policy efforts. 

"We launched a section on our Military OneSource website specifically dedicated to COVID-19, to ensure our military community received the latest and most accurate information," he said. "Just this month, we launched the My Military OneSource mobile application, which is available for download on smartphones and tablets to provide easier access to information, support and referrals."

Within military-operated schools across the department, he said, the Department of Defense Education Activity, or DODEA, early on responded to the transition of over 70,000 students and 14,000 faculty members to remote education environments. As part of that effort, he said, they also issued around 8,000 laptop computers to students and set up 250 internet hotspots to connect students to educational opportunities.

A young girl sits at a kitchen table and looks at a laptop computer screen.  In the background, a young woman also looks at a computer screen.
Student Homework
Kendal Morgenweck, a 5th grade student at Hohenfels Elementary School, completes her online assignments at home in Hohenfels, Germany, March 26, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Sgt. 1st Class Garrick Morgenweck
VIRIN: 200326-A-YY256-1887

As part of the greater, whole-of-nation response to COVID-19, the military health system has also played a part in trying to stop the spread of the pandemic, he said. 

"Our military health system also quickly responded by making significant investments to accelerate the research and development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics," Donovan said.  Part of that is the Defense Department's partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services as part of Operation Warp Speed.

"All of us at the Department of Defense hold an unwavering commitment to caring for our warfighters and their families," Donovan said. "In personnel and readiness, we understand how much our people rely on the resources we provide. This is a no-fail mission for us."