Pundits Wrong on Slashing Military Benefits

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On Monday, CNBC interviewed two defense analysts asking “What if?” the military trimmed its health care budget during these lean economic times. –

From the American Veteran:

What followed was a misleading dialogue over how the military currently cares for those in uniform and what our military men and women rely upon once they leave the service.

Mackenzie Eaglen of the Heritage Foundation never served in the military and Todd Harrison of CSBA Budget Studies served a brief stint in the Air Force Reserve. Both pundits have made a career of analyzing military decision-making and military budget processes, often generating sound discussion on where the military should invest its resources. Unfortunately, both have recently set their sights on slashing benefits for the brave men and women tasked with fighting our nation’s wars. Keep scrolling for AMVETS’ reaction. Here is the CNBC video:

Both pundits miss the point that all active duty military retirees are in fact veterans. Today, when our nation’s military men and women are at war, they are proposing increases in TRICARE premiums and privatization of military retirement pensions as a cost-saving measure.

For years AMVETS and its partners on the Military Coalition, or TMC, have opposed TRICARE increases and the privatization of pensions. AMVETS believes this would be a slap in the face to America’s military retirees. Now more than ever military men and women deserve the best health care available, including those who have made a career of defending our nation.

In the video, Eaglen bases her analysis of retirement benefits off of the pension and entitlements offered to a retired colonel–a rank many military retirees will never attain. In fact, most military retirees in the officer corps top out around O-5, or lieutenant colonel, with enlisted personnel often plateauing around E-7 or E-8. Particularly for enlisted retirees, the robust benefits offered through military retirement are not only deserved, but certainly needed. Even though second careers after military service are certainly possible, viable job-placement is not a given, particularly in a poor economy.

Harrison also asserts that pensions are not a viable retention benefit for the military, which is far from the truth. Throughout the ranks of AMVETS, many military retirees discuss their hard-earned pensions as the primary impetus in choosing to remain on active duty. Plus, it would be wholly inappropriate for the government to change the game for those currently working toward a military pension and for retirees that have already paid their debt in service to the military.

In the upcoming issue of American Veteran magazine, we hear from a military retiree who was concerned about his local base closing and its impact on the retirement benefits he relies on. Decisions to cut military retirement benefits have a real impact on people who selflessly sacrificed the prime of their lives to serve a greater good. As President Abraham Lincoln said, caring for our nation’s veterans is a “sacred trust.”

In the video, Harrison purports that the Department of Veterans Affairs is solely tasked with caring for wounded warriors. This completely misses the point. Wounded warriors who are medically retired for their injuries, such as lost limbs or severe traumatic brain injuries, are entitled to military health care for life. Should our wounded warriors also have to foot the bill for their life-altering wartime injuries? Plus, today’s newer retirees often encounter myriad service-connected issues that would encourage them to take advantage of a TRICARE option.

Both Harrison and Eaglen point to skyrocketing military health care costs over the last decade and propose that service members should bear some of the burden. AMVETS knows that these costs have increased primarily because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and much like the third-party billing proposal for VA service connected injuries, a proposal to impose higher premiums on American war fighters is a morally repugnant cost-cutting proposal.

AMVETS leaders vehemently oppose increases in TRICARE premiums during a time of war and any manipulation of military pensions. Should these proposals go beyond cable news punditry, AMVETS and its partner veteran and military organizations will do everything in their power to halt such misguided proposals.

As both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and New York Times columnist Bob Herbert pointed out, America is divorced from its military–viewing the wars as a distant abstraction. Harrison and Eaglen’s off-base analysis of today’s military health care system is only the latest example of this widening gap between those who serve in harm’s way and those who judge from the sidelines.

This lack of understanding of military culture and particularly military health care demonstrates the kind of disconnect between much of America’s civilian population and the scant one percent of Americans brave enough to fight today’s wars.

America must not dishonor its military men and women, which is why proposals like Eaglen’s and Harrison’s should never have even made it to the airwaves.

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