By Rebekah Johansen
Writing Friday in the Washington Post, Army veteran Tom Slear takes on an uncomfortable third rail of America’s budget woes: military benefits.
Slear, who, like many others, is a military veteran but never served in a combat role, discusses the extremely generous benefits paid to servicemembers.
Even though I spent 80 percent of my time in uniform as a reservist, I received an annual pension in 2013 of $24,990, to which I contributed no money while serving. . .
The most generous benefit of all is Tricare. This year I paid just $550 for family medical insurance. In the civilian sector, the average family contribution for health care in 2013 was $4,565, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In every area of the budget, there are powerful vested interests dedicated to stopping any cuts. In the case of the Pentagon, well, these interests are perhaps more powerful, while the debates and emotions involved are more intense.
The budget agreement last year included a trim of 1 percent in the cost-of-living increase in military retirement pay for those under 62. Predictably, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Military Officers Association of America would have none of it. “Breaking faith” is how the MOAA’s chairman characterized the deal.
Oh, please. One percent on a non-contributing pension while the retirees are still in their productive working years? That’s not breaking faith. It would be a judicious concession to the expanding federal deficit and would go largely unnoticed by recipients.
Forfeiting 1 percent of military retirement pay would not shortchange those wounded and disabled in combat, the ones most deserving of benefits. Disabled retirees were promptly exempted from the cut, and there was never a proposal for reducing disability care or benefits.
Of course, as Slear notes, not even the Pentagon can get its own requested cuts enacted, because politicians across the aisle plant their flags with “all or nothing” rhetoric.
Debt and deficits soar, yet Pentagon spending remains the absolute definition of a sacred cow, with most politicians across the aisle seemingly accepting that to reform anything from rampant waste to programs the military doesn’t even want to, yes, veteran benefits, is simply political suicide.
While the shameful Veterans Administration scandal continues to unfold, with its political ramifications sure to echo for years to come, it’s important to keep in mind one thing: more money is not a cure-all solution.
Let’s be clear. Most Americans hold service members in high regard – for good reason. Most Americans want the United States to follow through on its promises and care for our veterans. But although scandals like that at the VA shock our national consciousness, money continues to flow unchecked and, in large part, does nothing to solve the problems. Politicians can score all the easy political points in the world, but at the end of the day, irresponsible budgeting isn’t the answer to anyone’s problems.
It should be clear by now that every government agency is prone to wasteful spending; it should be clear that every agency deserves oversight. And as politically uncomfortable as it might be, it’s crystal clear that these statements must apply also to the Pentagon.