President Barack Obama recently released proposals to reduce the national deficit by creating new Tricare fees, restructuring military pharmacy benefits and creating a BRAC-style commission to look at ways to “civilianize” the military retirement system. What do these proposals buy us? Twenty-seven billion dollars saved over 10 years and generations of servicemembers who question our commitment to national defense and those who provide it.
And that is only the beginning. Sadly, for America and her warriors, the horizon seems dotted with pink slips and broken promises. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warns that if looming trillion-dollar cuts to national defense are enacted, national unemployment will rise by 1 percent. That’s more than 1.53 million jobs lost; many of them servicemembers and defense civilians. Even if Secretary Panetta overstated the devastation by nearly 70 percent, the nation still faces 500,000 newly unemployed. Such job losses would equal more people than the number of unemployed in West Virginia, New Mexico, Maine, Nebraska, Montana, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Delaware, Alaska, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming and North Dakota combined.
For our brave men and women in uniform, the threat of getting a late paycheck during a government shutdown will pale in comparison to the prospect of joining the ranks of the unemployed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans who left military service in the last decade face nearly 12 percent unemployment, with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans specifically facing an acutely high 22 percent jobless rate. A recent piece in The Washington Post noted that while most veterans believe that the military helped them get ahead in life by building character, maturity and self-confidence, a recent survey also indicates that an increasing number of veterans, particularly in the last decade, have found the transition to civilian life difficult. And most of them left the service voluntarily. Imagine the impact on warfighters forced to leave service early and unwillingly.
Should another $600 billion in cuts come to pass, at least 200,000 pink slips could be delivered to active-duty warfighters; at least 13 percent of our servicemembers will be forced out. Another 200,000 job losses will come to Department of Defense civilians working at installations across the country. We would be asking 1 in 4 highly skilled defense civilians to leave service.
For those fortunate enough to continue in military service, the outlook will be grim. A smaller force will devastate the already minimal dwell times. Remaining sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines will be asked to spend more time away from their families as they deploy to deter aggression and protect American interests. Tuition assistance will be cut, allowing fewer opportunities for military spouses to pursue higher education. DOD school funding will be slashed, potentially requiring families stationed both at home and abroad to pay tuition to send their children to base schools. Costs for groceries for servicemembers will rise as commissaries face reduced or eliminated funding. Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs will be cut by some $300 million.
All this adds up to military communities, both in the U.S. and overseas, that are less prepared and less capable of achieving the standard of living that we have promised our military families.
Secretary Panetta has also said that such severe cuts “guarantee that we will hollow out the force.” He is right. America will have no choice but to leave its remaining warfighters to undertake more missions with less training and already-aged equipment in critical need of repairs.
Those who have sacrificed for our nation deserve better. Members of Congress would be wise to reject the long-term damage these cuts would inflict not just on veterans, servicemembers and their families, but on the future viability of the volunteer force that is the foundation of the greatest military the world has ever known.
Rep. Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican, is chairman of the House armed services readiness subcommittee.