The Pentagon is in a full court press to sabotage pay for the military and veteran communities. Nearly every week over the last year, there has been a concerted effort by decision makers in Washington proposing fresh cuts to personnel accounts. It is being done in the most cruel way and breaks faith to those men and women who signed a solemn oath to defend our nation from those who wish do us harm. True to form, some in Washington want to ignore all that. Recent Washington legislation, proposals, reports, think-tanks, the media, etc... are intentionally undermining that trust and are causing a great deal of needless anxiety among our active duty troops and veteran communities. All the while there are troops still in harms way. Unfortunately, leadership that should be vigorously defending against those cuts are on-board with the Beltway slash and burn strategy.
Stateside Commissaries: Going the Way of the Dinosaurs?
The latest bomb-shell proposal from Washington aims to drastically scale back the Commissary benefit Stateside. The military Commissary system is a widely popular benefit to the community. It sells grocery items at cost plus 5% mark up to cover operational expenses and operates on a non-profit basis. It does not have to keep jacking up prices to satisfy a Wall Street quarterly earnings report. We need more ethically operated stores like the military Commissary system in our communities, not less.
The Commissary system was set up to shield troops from
greedy merchants that sit outside the base gates with a specific aim to get rich from unsuspecting military personnel. Commissary systems have been in place since Civil War times for the same reasons as they are today. Most merchants outside the gate are honorable and sell products and services at fair market prices. However, that will swiftly change once Stateside Commissary stores are shuddered. There will no longer be any honest competition so merchants like Wal-Mart can raise prices at will. Thus, the benefit that so many depend on could be gone. I am sure some millionaire Congressmen see this benefit as being too generous, too costly.
Painful COLA Cuts
If that is not bad enough, a few Congressmen engineered, in the Ryan/Murray 2013 bill, with Pentagon leadership blessing, a 1% cut to the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for retirees below the age of 62 starting in 2016 without any grandfathering clause. When the legislation passed the House, it was quickly realized the penalty also affected medically retired veterans. A chastened Congress saw how evil that was and reversed the cut in the omnibus bill but left it in tact the COLA cut for “working-age” veteran retirees. While that is partially good news, leaving the cut in place for everyone else breaks faith to those who have served. Bear in mind Congress put the COLA cut in as a backroom deal so -- it stood little chance of amendment – without a courtesy review by military advocacy groups – and most importantly, adheres to the austerian world view of slashing pay and entitlements.
Top Brass Favored Grandfathering Before They Were Against It
It was heartening to hear General Martin E Dempsey, Chairman Joint Chief of Staff, America's top military officer, say he was for grandfathering any changes to pensions back on October 13, 2011. He was adamantly opposed to any changes for active duty service members. Then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta backed him up and made clear making changes to the pension system is out of the question for those who have served.
When the painful vice-grip like affects of the sequestration were being loosened last year, Gen Dempsey emerged and felt somewhat relieved. He can go on about the business of preparing the military for the future. However, during an interview with NPR's Tom Bowman on January 17,2014, Gen Dempsey shocked the military community by coming out favoring cuts to military pensions. He here is trying to play on one side of the fence:
Bowman: In general, are we talking about limiting Cost of Living Adjustments, asking for more co-pays, higher deductibles?During an earlier interview with the Associated Press, on December 11, 2013, Gen Dempsey supported the “legislative proposal” as it stood, in other words he was all in favor of the 1% COLA cut to military retirees.
Gen Dempsey: The package that we've proposed has not yet been approved by the Secretary of Defense and the President, so I really can't speak to specifics.
Bowman: But clearly those are the things you're looking at.
Gen Dempsey: Yeah, I mean.... that's where the money is. Rates of pay raises – smaller pay raises, potentially changes to tri-care enrollment fees or co-pays, basic allowance for housing. I mean that's where the money is and so that's the places where – again, though, the important point is this is slowing growth so that it becomes manageable over time.
I have one sacred obligation to the young men and women who serve. And only one. ... If I ask them on behalf of the President to go to places like Afghanistan or some other conflict, they must be the best trained, best equipped and best led force on the planet. I don't want to win 5 to 4, I want to win 50 to nothing.
To do that we've go to make the appropriate investments in training, readiness, leader development, modernization and manpower. But I can't have the manpower account so out of proportion that it precludes me from making sure that if they go into harm's way they're ready to go.
Secretary Hagel, backed up by Gen Dempsey and the Service Chiefs, is pushing the line to anyone listening, compensation and benefits are out of control - without evidence - so they can convince Congress to squeeze those funds. Why isn't anyone from the media challenging the misinformation campaign that is being waged against our troops?
Washington hired the perfect four star Generals and Secretary to run our military. They are in perfect sync with the DC austerian crowd to keep salaries and work benefits down for everyone except themselves.
Media: Who's Side Are They On?
Some in the media have dealt with these critical issues in a similarly unfair manner. They see active duty and veterans as commodities, which can be traded away as if their service did not matter. In their editorial page on November 30, 2013, the New York Times, the paper of record, recommended “putting military pay on the table.” Siding with Pentagon leadership, they want pay “reform” – code for cuts. The editorial quotes pro salary “cut” think-tanks to bolster their argument for “reforming” (also code for cuts) pay and benefits. What is most repugnant in the article is the inference troops should help pay for the budget shortfalls. I wonder if the Times is willing to make up the difference by paying more in taxes?
What the piece fails to mention is the US government borrowed a staggering$3.1 trillions to wage the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and will continue to borrow trillions more well into the future. The nation was not asked to help finance the two wars. Policy makers in Washington are now trying to push some of those costs onto retired veterans and active duty troops in a very dramatic and painful way. The problem is the federal government refuses to acknowledge how much the wars cost because if they did, that would expose the money shortfalls, and reveal more money would be needed to cover them. Funds are scattered in many budgets so as to confuse the public. By the way, the New York Times must have forgotten when one of their own journalists lost all sense of journalist integrity by writing favorable articles for war in Iraq, which all turned out to be based on fabricated information. They see no irony with their position.
When troops leave the battlefield, they continue to carry war scars – at home, at work, etc.... the trauma stays with them and their families. The Pentagon does not cover at home care, therefore undercutting the true cost of war.
Yes, the irony. On January 10, 2014, the Times editorial board waded into the income inequality fray with a piece titled “No Jobs, No Benefits, and Lousy Pay.” They rightfully complain politicians in Washington are causing the income gap to widen. They infer Congress needs to take “action” to shore up federal safety net programs to help narrow income inequality. That is precisely what the editorial board should be doing for all cases of unfair government policies, including with military pay.
The Times editorials are just a few examples other news outlets favoring cuts to active duty and military retiree pensions, benefits and compensation. Contrary to what some say, the cuts that are being proposed are not small by any measure as some in Washington would have you believe. For instance, the recent enacted law which cuts “working age” military retiree COLA will have a dramatic impact on military pensioners. According the Military Officers Association of America:
Reducing COLA by 1 percentage point each year before a person reaches age 62 has a serious and profound effect on lifetime earnings. If you've served, you deserve the benefits promised to you.
The most reprehensible part of the many proposals gutting military compensation, benefits and retirement comes from the very Congressmen, such as Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI) who favored war without the means to pay for them. Now they are fiscally conservative and want veterans and active duty members to shoulder the cost of downsizing. Total hypocrisy.
A More Humane Approach
As with everything in life, there are options. We don't have to end up penalizing the active duty personnel and the military retiree community for serving in the armed forces. What is needed is leadership in the White House, Congress and the Pentagon to demand they view the people who work for them as national treasures worth defending. We understand the military should wind down in size but not at the expense of those who've given so much for the safety of our country. Policy makers must not be so focused on only the spending side of the federal ledger. They must look to those that have done so well over the years to help pay for the security they get from our troops. Maintaining security costs money so that means raising revenues to pay for it.
Richard (RJ) Eskow wrote an excellent piece: The Generations Should Fight Their Retirement Battles Together. In the article he suggests the wars on “retirement security should unite us....” I could not agree more. There is a cottage industry that is backed by mega bucks which wants to undo the safety net Americans have. These same people have military compensation, healthcare and pensions in their cross-hairs and have willing people in leadership positions to cut them.
To follow the ongoing struggle ... follow the efforts at the following websites: MOAA , Veterans of Foreign Wars, and The American Legion. These military advocacy organizations and others have stood up for our troops and veterans, warning Congress to act in good faith when working legislation that will have an impact on those who've served.