Fix health care woes before taxing troops
Stars and Stripes
It’s shocking how many of the same military and civilian leaders who have spent so much oratory on the country’s debt to our all-volunteer force now seem to disregard the total sacrifices made by our troops and their families.
It’s understandable that these leaders want to address serious financial problems that warrant bold action. But it’s truly disappointing that many of these same leaders want to target and tax our troops and their families first by slashing their health care and retirement benefits.
Underlying these actions is a drumbeat coming from many budget-oriented think tanks insisting that military personnel and health care costs are “eating us alive.”
This is simply not true. Personnel costs have comprised the same roughly one-third share of the budget consistently for the last 30 years, so they are no more unaffordable now than in the past. In fact, these costs are a bargain when compared with other organizations that depend on a quality workforce. Personnel costs comprise 61 percent of the budget for United Parcel Service, 43 percent for FedEx and 31 percent for Southwest Airlines.
Furthermore, the Pentagon has used the military health care account as a “cash cow” to fund other programs. In Fiscal Year 2012, $708 million was diverted from the health care account to other programs, and these diversions totaled $2.8 billion over the last three years. Additionally, retiree health care costs declined 2.5 percent. For FY 2013, budget projections reduce these costs even further.
With these facts easily available to anyone who wants them, why are so many looking to reduce the deficit by targeting earned compensation of our military? It’s apparently a case of doing something because it’s easy.
Our whole procurement system is awash in incompetence and has been allowed to stay that way for decades. So defense leaders misdirect attention from their contracting and oversight mismanagement by pushing people program cuts instead.
We at the Military Officers Association of America want to stand up to this subterfuge and call upon our defense and civilian leaders to get their own management house in order first. As a start, the Defense Department could go after big savings urged by a dozen federal reports recommending combining the multiple, fragmented military health systems under one unified command.
Military families have already received fee increases and must conform to other changes, such as using the mail-order pharmacy system. They want to be part of the solution, as long as it is fair.
To learn more about fact vs. fiction regarding military personnel costs, please read this report: tinyurl.com/c6yb2at
Retired Vice Adm. Norb Ryan Jr. is president of the Alexandria, Va.-based Military Officers Association of America.