Best post ever about the military benefits debate

Every once in a while somebody writes a blog post that squarely and utterly nails a discussion.  Amy Bushatz, the managing editor of Military.com’s family blog titled SpouseBuzz, just wrote one of those posts.  She ardently and cogently eviscerates those who feel that military folks are overcompensated whiners when it comes to their pay and benefits.  I could not have possibly said or written it any better! Her great piece is reposted below, and if you would like to see the original, go here.

An Open Letter to Military Benefits Haters

Dear Military Benefits Haters  –

We’ve been having a rough go of it lately, haven’t we?  There you are, a civilian, absolutely convinced that the average servicemember is not worth his weight in pay and benefits.  And here I am, a military family member wondering how we got to this point – and why you are so misdirected about the value of the military.

I think the problem may be that you are confused. You’re there, sitting on your civilian sofa in your civilian house in the town of your choice after coming home from your civilian 9-5 job. You are feeling a little annoyed by the crazy awesome salaries that servicemembers and military retirees score because, in comparison, yours aren’t that amazing. And hey! Your taxes are paying for us to have this fabulous stuff! You are incensed by the very existence of commissaries which, you gleefully note in news articles like this one,  is supported by tax payers all so that military folks can have access to “15 types of ketchup” at Lejeune. You think they should close.

And over here, you proclaim our benefits – the things we get in exchange for the willingness to die for America – as lavish.

It isn’t so much the idea of shutting the commissaries that bothers me. While they do seem like a vital part of life overseas, stateside the argument that they are superfluous at most bases doesn’t seem that farfetched. In most cases, as the author of this peachy story notes, there really are other options. Same thing goes for fitness centers and recreation on bases around the country.

Don’t get me wrong – I love that stuff and I use it all regularly. But I could live without it just fine. If it comes down to bullets or bagels, I’d go with the bullets any day.

What bothers me about these and other stories and columns like them is your tone.

Servicemembers, retirees and their families, the tone says, are acting like privileged brats for expecting, accepting and clinging to the benefits which encourage them to stay military or even to join in the first place.

In fact, the tone says, it is a waste of tax payer money to meet military personnel needs or even give nice-to-haves in exchange for keeping them around.

Servicemembers are overpaid, coddled low-skill workers who should not be given compensation for the inconveniences of military life, but who should still be expected to do their jobs anyway.

It’s a tone that says if you had to join the military to make it through life you are, logically, a substandard American worker and you do not warrant compensation in excess or even equal to the civilian market. Civilians are people who have choices and didn’t take the easy out of Uncle Sam. Military are people who are living off the tax payer.

The tone is supported by the flinging of inaccurate statistics to support your claims or, worse, the promotion sof weeping generalities about who servicemembers are and what they deserve.

Bad Statistics and Comparisons

Here’s this gem from the Post’s story:

“Over the past decade, military salaries have grown at a faster rate than those of civilian workers. The average enlisted soldier now earns more than 90 percent of Americans who have less than two years of college. Most Army captains – the third-most-junior rank of officer – will take home more than $90,000 this year.”

I’m going to disregard that ridiculous first sentence that ignores the fact that we also, over the past decade, have been paid for deployment after deployment and all the tolls of war. Let’s just focus on the compensation “facts.”

Only one in five Americans is even in good enough physical shape to join the Army. That means that to be the “average enlisted soldier” the author talks about, a recruit already had to do something most Americans can’t – be fit. A whole other group of Americans is ineligible because they didn’t graduate high school or because they have a criminal record. He also had to be willing to join the military at all, which puts him in a group with less than one percent of Americans.

After he joins that soldier then holds a more than full time job, often over 80 hours a week, for which he must continue to meet requirements such as staying fit and felony free. He very likely does an intricate task that no average American with less than two years of college could do without months of dedication and training. He probably has also spent more than nine full months multiple times away from his family working around the clock where he put his life on the line and accepted the continuing burdens of war as part of the gig. He’s likely to have held this same job for around five or six years.

Why is it unreasonable that this soldier make more than 90 percent of Americans who have less than two years of college? And how is that a good group of people to compare him to at all?

And then there is his statement about Army captains and what I can only assume must be a gross misuse of the term “take home,” which is generally accepted to mean “income after taxes.”

Army officers – or any officers, for that matter – are compensated at a higher rate based on education and responsibility, at least in theory. While a captain may make “more than $90,000” before taxes in a very high housing allowance area such as D.C., the average captain certainly does not. A little math reveals that a captain with seven years of Army experience living in San Antonio, Texas with dependents, for example, makes about $86,000 before taxes. But a breakdown of average hours worked by our case study during a year in which he does not deploy shows that he earns around $25 an hour.

And no matter how you shake it out, none of these examples are “more than $90,000″ after taxes.

 In 2010 the average male graduate just out of college earned about $22 an hour. After graduating college and spending seven years on the job with countless additional months in training, an Army captain is making about $25 an hour for putting his life on the line, being willing to live wherever the Army sends him and leave his family for months at a time. He also has met all the qualifications of the “average enlisted soldier” that made that person valuable including, again, an interest in joining to start with.

Are high personnel costs really a problem?

As America rolled into sequestration and other budget cuts, DoD leaders decried the high cost of personnel. After all, they said, supporting current and former military members takes up a third of the DoD 2013 budget.  And with the DoD budget as a whole taking up the biggest “single slice of the federal budget at Social Security,” something surely must be done.

But what they fail to note is that personnel costs really aren’t that ridiculous when compared to the normal market. As the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) points out, in civilian companies with big air fleets (the closest they could get to a military comparison), personnel costs hover at similar levels.

For the United Parcel Service, for example, personnel costs make up 61 percent of the budget. For FedEx, it’s 43 percent. For Southwest Airlines – generally recognized as among the most cost-efficient air carriers – personnel costs comprise 31 percent of operating revenue (which includes profit, so the percentage of expenditures is higher).

The idea that the Defense Budget is so out of control is also misleading, particularly when you look to past trends. This MOAA graph shows that it hovers below 20 percent – whereas in 1962 it was closer to 50 percent.

If it’s so great, where are you?

But here’s the thing that really gets me.

If the pay and benefits for members of the American military are so lavish and such a steal of a deal, where are you, Benefits Hater?

Because that’s the thing that’s so great about the American military. You don’t have to be special or an elitist to hang out with us. You don’t even have to be an American citizen. You just have to meet the requirements and be willing to run while wearing boots.

This isn’t some exclusive club. We like all types of people. We’re cool like that.

So perhaps you don’t join because you can’t meet the qualifications that us low-skill, not worthy of benefits folks met.

Or maybe you just love your freedoms and hate danger. Maybe you like picking where you live. Maybe your spouse has a career she doesn’t want to destroy by moving every three years. Maybe you don’t want to risk getting blown up in the street while driving through a far away land.

Those freedoms? We gave you those and make sure you keep them.

Try remembering that and then see how you feel about military benefits.

Sincerely,

Amy
Amen.

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Military/Veteran Transitionnews for 1/28/14

Military transition and veterans affairs news of the day for 1/28/14

Good news story of the day

Glendale Heights collecting valentines for veterans  (Daily Herald)  Do you remember how fun Valentine’s Day was in elementary school?

Military transition

JPMorgan Chase Announces $1 Million Investment in Higher Education Programs for U.S. Military Veterans  (Business Wire)  JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced today it will invest $1 million to fund higher education programs for U.S. military veterans including grants to Florida State College at Jacksonville, University of South Florida, The University of Texas at Arlington and San Diego State University.

Veterans still fighting for survival in tough job market  (CNN Money)  The transition from soldier to civilian is rough.

Protecting Our Veterans From Domestic Enemies  (The Huffington Post)  The nation has changed dramatically since I returned from World War II in 1946.

Corporate jobs initiative meets 100,000 vet hiring goal  (USA Today)  A coalition of companies that vowed in 2011 to hired 100,000 veterans within a decade has made its goal seven years early, announcing today that 117,439 former service members have since been provided jobs.

Solar jobs attracting industry veterans  (Fierce Energy)  The Solar Foundation (TSF) has released its fourth annual National Solar Jobs Census, which found that the U.S. solar industry employed 142,698 Americans in 2013, including the addition of 23,682 solar jobs over the previous year — a 19.9 percent growth in employment since September 2012.

Veteran job fair Tuesday at Temple VA  (KWKT.com)  On January 28, Veterans are invited to a job fair from 9 a.m. to noon at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center, part of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.

Fort Bliss summit to teach businesses and military veterans about jobs  (El Paso Times)  How companies can hire military veterans and how veterans can find jobs will be covered at the two-day Fort Bliss Veterans Jobs Summit Feb. 3-4.

Veterans Corner: Veterans Job and Resource Fair on April 10  (The Sentinel)  Mark your calendars.

Veterans fair offers help with housing, jobs, benefits  (The Record Searchlight)  North State veterans struggling to make ends meet may be eligible for a variety of essential services and benefits unknown to them.

Veterans

Are U.S. Veterans Selfish?  (Time)  It’s an impudent question, but one that naturally surfaces given the outrage rolling in from assorted veterans’ groups as Congress and the Pentagon seek ways to trim government spending that sometimes affect those who have volunteered to fight America’s wars.

HOA wants Palm Coast man to remove wounded warriors flag from home  (WFTV.com)  A Palm Coast man said he’s racking up hundreds in fines for refusing to take down a flag that supports America’s wounded warriors.

UM Brain Injury Research to Benefit Athletes, Military  (ABCFoxMontana.com)  Professional athletes and members of the military could soon benefit from traumatic brain injury research at the University of Montana.

Connecting Veterans To Capital (The Street)  Pan American Bank today announced the “Connecting Veterans to Capital” workshop scheduled for February 5, 2014.

Afghan war vets, St. Louis researchers seek answers on head injuries  (St. Louis Post Dispatch)  For hours on route clearance missions in southern Afghanistan, Sgt. Michael Ritchey crammed his short body into a Husky, a single-seat vehicle that loosely resembles an armored road-grader.

It’s wounded amputee team, with Wisconsin native, vs. ex-NFL players  (Journal-Sentinel)  Sure, Jeremy Stengel loves the camaraderie of flag football.

For injured veteran, war continues even at home  (PilotOnline.com)  Chuck Rotenberry can talk about the virtues of others, both man and dog, at length.

Veterans affairs

ANN ARBOR: VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System honored for patient care  (Ann Arbor Journal)  VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System (VAAAHS) celebrated being the first healthcare organization to be awarded Planetree Silver Merit recognition for Significant Advancement in Patient-Centered Care with a special award ceremony featuring presentations by veterans and their loved ones who have received health care at the Ann Arbor VA.

Want to know why Wilmington’s VA compensation case backlog keeps growing? So would we (Delaware Online) Today marks the 38th day since I asked the Dept. of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., for an on-the-record official to discuss why disability compensation cases were being transferred from Baltimore and Philadelphia to Wilmington and other northeast Veterans Benefits Administration offices last year, increasing Wilmington’s backlog – which continues to grow despite an overall national trend in the opposite direction.

VA closes community-based health care clinics Tues. and Wed. for weather  (The Times-Picayune)  The New Orleans office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will close 10 community-based health care clinics Tuesday and Wednesday due to predicted snow, sleet and ice.

Latest breach at VA has Congress asking more questions  (FCW)  The latest data breach at the Department of Veterans Affairs — this one exposing thousands of veterans’ personally identifiable information in a mid-January software glitch — has Congress again questioning the agency about its IT security practices.

At VHA, Doctors, Nurses Clash on Oversight  (Wall Street Journal) The Veterans Health Administration is taking heavy fire from doctor groups over a proposal to let nurses with advanced training practice medicine without physician supervision throughout the VHA system—even in states where laws require more oversight.

Xerox Helps Department of Veteran’s Affairs Automate Healthcare Claims Pricing  (Business Wire)  Xerox has been selected to improve the healthcare claims pricing strategy for the Department of Veteran Affairs, Veterans Health Administration.

Benefits

Omnibus VA bill would repeal pension reductions, ensure benefits during future  shutdowns  (Fierce Government)  An omnibus veterans affairs bill introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would  fully repeal pension reductions, ensure veterans benefits if the government  shuts down again and introduce new veteran hiring goals.

TRICARE military centers closing walk-in services in April  (Standard-Examiner)  A personal touch looks to be disappearing from the military health benefits system.

Iowa Senate passes tax exemption for military retirement pay  (The Gazette)  The Iowa Senate voted Monday to exempt military retirement pay from state income taxes – a move that backers hope will encourage more veterans to stay, return or move to Iowa.
Top enlisted retirees push back on COLA cuts  (Military Times)  Chip Hoynes retired from the Coast Guard in 2007, landing a high-paying job with a defense contractor in the same field he worked in on active duty.

Hearings: Senate panel to examine military pension cut  (The Washington Post)  Lawmakers are off to a busy start after returning from a week-long break, with some notable congressional hearings taking place on Tuesday.

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