- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday directed military medical officials to show within 45 days how they will improve care, patient safety and access to treatment at underachieving military health care facilities.

Hagel released findings of a 90-day review of the entire military health care system, which serves 9.6 million active-duty troops and their family members, as well as retirees. He also directed military officials to write a detailed plan by the end of the year to fix and track uneven performance across the military health system of more than 50 hospitals and 600 clinics in the U.S. and around the world.

“The review found pockets of excellence - significant excellence, which we’re very proud of, and extraordinary doctors, nurses and staff who are deeply dedicated to the patients they serve,” Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.

“It also found gaps, however, and facilities that must improve. The bottom line finding is that the military health care system provides health care that is comparable in access, quality and safety to average private sector health care. But we cannot accept average.”

The review Hagel ordered in May was prompted by an investigation into allegations of treatment delays at Veterans Affairs facilities. The VA has been embroiled in controversy over allegations that up to 40 patients may have died while awaiting care at the Phoenix hospital for veterans, and that employees have falsified appointment records to cover up delays in care.

The department’s inspector general’s investigation into the allegations has been expanded and now includes 25 more VA facilities. But an initial review of 17 people who died while awaiting appointments in Phoenix found that none of their deaths appeared to have been caused by delays in treatment.

Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said the review of the military health care facilities did not find single hospitals that were below standard.

“What you’ll find is hospitals are very good in one area and not so good in another area and average in, kind of, the others,” Work said. “There was no hospital that was found to be unsafe.”

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