What’s next for military pay and benefits?

My last post was about the impending — and expected — drawdown of the military.  The United States is following the path of many other western nations as they shed soldiers and sailors in an effort to curtail the expense of national treasure and return their armed forces to the size they deem more appropriate for a post-war world.

It does make sense.  After all, standing armies, navies, and air forces are extremely expensive and tough to justify in times of peace (or at least of times of non-war, which seems to be a more apropos description of the 21st century age in which we live).  It has all happened before, and it will surely happen again.

For those who remain in uniform, however, things may well be changing as well.  The Department of Defense is considering pretty much any idea or option that comes to the table in terms of reigning in the costs of personnel, consume about a quarter of the DOD budget.  Various studies and commissions have examined the issue of military and military retiree compensation, and with the austerity brought on by the economy and sequestration such benefits come under greater scrutiny.

One of the latest efforts is the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, a congressionally mandated effort to determine the “long term viability” of  military compensation (for more information, read today’s Stars and Stripes coverage of the commission here).  All things considered, looking under the hood of the military compensation machine is not in and of itself a bad thing.  It happens after every war, but this time the scalpels are sharp and the desire to perform some cost cutting surgery is possibly stronger than ever.

Efforts to change pension benefits, pay structures for serving personnel, medical coverage for retirees, and countless other benefits have been in the news lately and the new congressional panel is yet another bureaucratic mechanic crowded under the hood of the machine trying to dismantle what they can.

As I wrote earlier, a reasonable review is perfectly appropriate as the wars draw to a close.  The moral imperative of meeting the obligations of the nation to those who serve it, however, should be paramount in any discussion about tinkering with or cutting compensation.

I sincerely hope that the commission keeps that in mind.

Another “plan” to reduce retired veteran benefits

I wrote about not long ago about the government’s strong desire to reduce the health insurance benefit for military retirees.  The subject has reared its ugly head again with a renewed attack on retirees who are enrolled in TRICARE, the health care system for military members, their families, and retirees.

As reported in the Marine Corps Times yesterday (you can read the whole article here), Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense, proposed that “working age” retirees should not be able to utilize TRICARE as their primary health care system but instead should be required to use their employer’s plan instead.  TRICARE would only be used as a secondary or backup plan.

Although the proposal is a long way from being written into legislation, it is a strong indicator that veterans are choice targets in the DOD’s battle of the budget.  Should it become law, though, it will be a significant blow to the 1.6 million veteran retirees who are currently enrolled in TRICARE but have not yet reached age 65.

Interestingly, the issue is one that impacts the Department of Defense and not the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is why the SecDef is pushing for the change.  Most benefits for veterans are covered by the VA, but in the case of retirees it is the DOD that pays the bills.  A retiree’s pension comes from the same place that it did when he or she was still in uniform: the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.  TRICARE, the military and retiree health plan, is also covered by the DOD’s budget.

And Chuck Hagel doesn’t like that very much.

The DOD continues to bang the drum of readiness, and as happens at the end of every war the organization focuses inwards to guard as much of the fiscal pie as possible from those who demand that the post-war military machine shrink in response to the wars no longer being fought.

I find that to be as normal as dawn follows darkness, but I also find the scapegoating of retirees to be a bit insulting.  It is OK for the military to squander $34 million on a useless headquarters in Afghanistan that the military commanders on the ground didn’t even want, but it is not OK for the Department of Defense to honor its commitment to those who dedicate decades of their lives to the defense of the nation.  Instead of conducting a thorough and critical review of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent (and often squandered) on defense equipment and service contracts Hagel finds it easier to go after those who actually went into harm’s way than the connected and powerful  who never left the comfort of their own living rooms.

It is an example of the oddly twisted thinking that pervades governmental agencies, and in my opinion it is just as hypocritical as the administration pushing to subsidize healthcare costs for members of congress and their staffs while ignoring small business’s pleas for relief from the costly requirements.

Anyhow, if having my promised access to health care is cut as an expedient to allow the DOD to keep squandering the taxpayer’s dollar, then so be it.

All I ask is for every military recruiter from every branch of service to explain to every prospective recruit and officer candidate that the benefits that they are being promised in exchange for the opportunity to risk their lives are not really promises.

They’re just part of the honorless practice of bait and switch.  I had always thought that we, as a nation, were better than that.

Sadly, I guess not.