Obnoxious Proposals

Posted: April 29, 2012 in Uncategorized
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It’s common in these highly politicized times to paste warm, fuzzy names on even the most obnoxious proposals. An initiative to whack Social Security benefits might be called the “Saving Social Security Act,” for example. A few years ago, when the Pentagon proposed big health care fee hikes, it was labeled the “Sustaining the Benefit” plan. Such euphemistic spin campaigns bring to mind the old quote, “We had to burn the village to save it.” One common phrase that’s cropped up repeatedly in speeches, press releases, and testimony by defense and service leaders is the importance of “keeping faith” with currently serving personnel in planning deep defense budget cuts. If only it were so. The fact is there’s far more breaking faith in those plans than keeping faith. That rhetoric first appeared in the wake of a Defense Business Board plan that envisioned changing the military retirement system and included an option to change retirement rules in midstream for servicemembers currently on active duty.
Cringing from tremendous backlash from the troops, defense and service leaders scrambled over each other to pledge they’d “keep faith” with the currently serving by applying any new retirement rules only to future service entrants. But they made no such pledge on anything else that would have similar — or worse — effects on troops and families. A huge part of the cuts proposed in the FY 2013 defense budget involve dramatically raising TRICARE Standard fees, TRICARE Prime fees, TRICARE For Life fees, and TRICARE pharmacy copayments. “These wouldn’t apply to uniformed servicemembers,” the leaders say. But that’s flatly untrue. The plan to triple pharmacy copayments would apply to family members of active duty servicemembers who don’t have access to military pharmacies, and they’d also apply to drilling Guard and Reserve members and their family members who don’t have such access. For family members with chronic diseases or significant disabilities, that could have a big effect on their finances. So don’t try to tell me higher expenses for family members don’t affect today’s servicemembers.
The Standard, Prime, and TRICARE For Life fee hikes — up to $2,000 a year or more — also directly affect every servicemember with career aspirations. They may not incur the fees until they retire, but there are tens of thousands on active duty today who will be retired within a year. And every single servicemember who plans to serve a career would incur them after leaving active duty. If keeping faith on retirement means protecting all active duty members from any retirement changes, how can it be anything other than breaking faith to whack their health care benefits? Is charging them an extra $2,000 a year for health care in retirement any different than cutting their annual retired pay by $2,000? And how about the plan to cut active duty force levels by 120,000-plus over the next several years? Service leaders acknowledge they’ll have to force out many who had planned to make the military a career — including many with multiple combat deployments. How is it keeping faith to kick them out the door in one of the highest unemployment periods in recent memory?
To be fair, service leaders don’t have much choice about some of these things. When budget crunches come, force levels always get cut and benefits always come under attack. Nobody likes it, and nobody can claim it’s fair. We know — and defense and service leaders know — they’re breaking faith in multiple ways. Real leaders should start with an apology and spare us the disingenuous blather about “keeping faith” with troops and their families. There’s no sugar-coating the major pain they seek to impose on currently serving and retired families alike. [Source: Co-Chairman of The Military Coalition Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF-Ret. article 15 Mar 2012 ++]

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