10 June 2010
I have read the reports of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ recent speeches concerning the probability of flat or declining defense budgets in the future. To Secretary Gates credit, he looked within his own department for savings to offset declining budgets.
However, when I saw the potential bill payers, I was perplexed. Among the suggested contributors to the savings plan are retiree health care fees and co-pays, and active duty pay and benefits increases. Concerning retiree health care fees, Congress has provided military retiree health care benefits that exceed civilian ones as an essential offset for the unique demands, harsh conditions, and sacrifices inherent in military service, which far surpass the demands made on civilian workers. This offset is necessary because of the harsh conditions of military service that few Americans are willing to accept for even a short time, let alone for 20 to 30 years.
Retirees through service and sacrifice have already paid enormous premiums. I believe strongly that the Department of Defense (DoD) must expend greater effort on reducing health costs by eliminating inefficiencies in administration, contracting, and procurement rather than looking first to beneficiaries. Further, I support the concept that only Congress should have the authority to change health care fees and co-pays as is outlined in pending legislation, HR 816.
Additionally, at a time when our military resources are engaged in fighting two wars, our service members are dying on battlefields around the world, and the pay gap is not yet closed, attempts to trim budget shortfalls at the expense of military pay and benefits would appear to be tremendously misguided. Imagine the impact on morale that almost flat paychecks would have on soldiers driving on explosives-lined roads in Iraq and Afghanistan. Budget corrections should not come from military personnel accounts and benefits. Soldiers count – and to maintain high recruiting and retention rates, we must not cut quality of life benefits. We owe it to our brave service members who are in harm’s way, not to use their pay and benefits for budget-cutting target practice.
Finally, in the myriad news articles that have followed Secretary Gates’ recent budget-related speeches, reference has been made to veterans groups “pushing Congress to provide increasingly generous benefits including concurrent receipt”. Concurrent receipt refers to disabled service members who, in order to receive veterans compensation for injury or disease incurred while protecting our nation, must give up part of their retirement pay earned by giving at least 20 years of service to include the willingness to give up their life. Urging Congress to allow the concurrent receipt of these two very different compensation elements, earned by disabled veterans who might well have died during their service, hardly seems to fall into the category of increasingly generous benefits. The generosity comes from the patriotic and brave service members – all volunteers - who give up seeing their families for years at a time, who miss birthdays, anniversaries, little league games, school plays, the birth of their children and the death of aged parents, in order to protect all Americans and our way of life.
I understand that during this time of enormous national budget deficits, prudent use of our fiscal resources is in order. However, in a country as richly blessed as ours, surely there are ways to exercise fiscal responsibility without dipping into the pockets of volunteer soldiers, retirees and veterans.