On any given day, about 286,000 service members -- 13 to 14 percent of the total force – are nondeployable, Wilkie said at a hearing on military and civilian personnel programs and military family readiness.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis in July tasked the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness with developing policies to ensure everyone who enters the military and those who remain in the military are worldwide deployable, he explained.
Service members who have been nondeployable for more than 12 consecutive months will be processed for administrative separation or referred to the disability evaluation system, he said.
"This new policy is a 12-month ‘deploy-or-be-removed’ policy," he said, noting there are exceptions, such as pregnancy and postpartum conditions. Medical boards will review the medical status of those who have been wounded, he said.
“We need to look at the force holistically,” he said. “We have to ensure given the climate that this country faces that everyone who signs up can be deployed to any corner of the world at any given time, and that is the reason for the change in policy."
The new policy is effective immediately. Military services have until Oct. 1 to begin mandatory processing of nondeployable service members, Patricia Mulcahy, the director of DOD’s officer and enlisted personnel management office, said.
Service members could be nondeployable for any number of reasons, she said, such as falling behind on annual medical exams or due to combat or training injuries. Only a small percentage of those who are nondeployable have been in that status for more than 12 months, Mulcahy said.
Each service member’s case will be individually reviewed, she said, and the secretaries of the military departments are authorized to grant waivers to retain members.
The purpose of the policy is not to separate members, but rather is to get members back into a deployable status if possible, she emphasized.
"I think it's important to know that there is the balance between readiness and helping our members who are not going to be able to heal adequately to be deployable to help them with the next phase of their lives as well," she said.
The policy is meant to improve readiness and ensure members are deployable worldwide to carry out the mission of safeguarding the nation and fighting and winning the nation’s wars, she said.
"Since Secretary Mattis has been on board, readiness and lethality of the forces has been the absolutely No. 1 priority for him, and thus for the department," she said.