Over the past several decades, American Servicemembers, and especially Veterans have seen a growing trend in our government. That is, the government sends our men and women off to war, gives temporary enticing incentives and makes other empty promises to attract and keep them in the military; and then once they retire or discharge, these veterans are disposed of like useless pieces of antiquated military gear.
It wasn’t too long ago, that our government understood and truly tried to take care of our Servicemembers and Veterans. This makes perfect sense since up until the 1970-80’s, approximately 75% of the members of congress had served in the military, compared to around 20% today. Thus, they fully understood what military service, sacrifice, honor, commitment and integrity meant. Because of this, both Servicemembers and Veterans enjoyed many hard-earned and desperately needed benefits.
For example, they used to be able to buy fuel at base gas stations around the country for less than the cost outside of base. The government did not add taxes to the sale of fuel, which helped offset the cost of living for our Servicemembers and Veterans. Than one day, our government decided to pass the little known Hayden-Cartwright Act (4 USC, Section 104) to get rid of this benefit. This obscure federal law, which passed more than 60 years ago, requires on-base military gas stations to collect taxes on the gasoline they sell. Why? Was it due to pressure from lobbyist of gas station owners and petroleum companies around the country that wanted their share of the military and veterans market?
In the past, every man and women who was recruited into the military was promised free health and dental care for life, if they served and retired from military service. Than this promise was broken by stating, it was never really a promise. Soon after, retirees were kicked out of base dental and health clinics around the world as these same clinics and hospitals claimed due to closing bases, and government downsizing and cutbacks on medical and dental facilities including doctors, they did not have the money or personnel to care for veterans.
In response Congress, in their infinite wisdom and continued policy of give and take (more take than give), started the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the United States (CHAMPUS), which was a health care program for military retirees and their dependents, similar to MEDICARE. Then, due to costs, this was again changed to the Tricare Program, which is a three tier medical insurance program that, depending on the tier, requires increasing copayments and deductibles by its members.
Now, many in congress and unfortunately, even some military leaders are beginning to state that there are too many using this Tricare program and that the government can’t afford it, so we must adjust these benefits, raise premiums, and “cure the health care problem.” This is ironic since it was our government who recruited, promised and then sent these men and women off to war, while spending billions of dollars on these same wars and supporting foreign militaries and governments. Therefore, due to congress’s misappropriation of funds and poor leadership choices, these government officials are progressively abandoning our Servicemembers and Veterans, not all at once, just at a slow, steady and quiet pace.
Meanwhile these same government officials that are pushing “fiscal austerity” for some, enjoy very generous private health insurance and retirement programs and can go to military medical facilities for treatment. They can also retire with only five years of government service, and even become eligible for a retirement annuity at a younger age and with fewer years of service than even other federal government workers. These same members of congress also continue with their own pork barrel spending and other projects while having extremely generous office budgets ranging from $1.27 million to $1.546 million for house members, to $2.96 million to $4.65 million for senate members.
There is a recent call to close domestic base commissaries. Even though these commissaries not only provide needed food and other shopping benefits and support while making a profit, but also donate about 70% of the funds used for base moral, welfare and recreational programs (MWR). In addition, these same commissaries provide the vast majority of jobs to military dependents while their profits are used to build new stores or renovate existing facilities without expense to the federal government. Yet, some want to close these commissaries. Why? Is there possibly a correlation between government officials and outside big supermarkets and retail stores? Now, lawmakers are looking at potential savings through adjustments in the military pension system as a way to avoid deeper spending cuts.
It is recognized though that there have been some congressional supporters of our nation’s military Servicemembers and Veterans as was evident by the passing of the new GI Bill. However, like the original GI Bill of the past known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, and the Vietnam Era GI Bill known as Chapter 34, no one knows when these new education benefits will start to be slowly taken away and then rescinded. What will happen next? Will there be additional cuts in pay, retirement and other benefits forcing Veterans to one day finally march on D.C. to demand what was promised them, similar to the Bonus Expeditionary Force in July 9132, only to be met with violent force, injury and eviction? Or will congress simply start to draft “some” into military service in order to save money and do as thy please without worrying about the consequences?
Our Servicemembers and Veterans certainly know what sacrifice hardship are, and continue to endure these things long after they serve. Servicemembers and Veterans also know that although they protect freedom and democracy, they can seldom take part in it. However, isn’t it time for congress to stop fleecing and abandoning the protectors of our nation, especially those that have already given so much? What happened to honor, trust and integrity in our government? One thing is obvious; Servicemembers and Veterans need to become an active and unified voting block.
About the Author:
Roland B. Wilson is a retired Marine who has coauthored several books and articles on Veterans’ issues. He is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University focusing on East Asian conflicts, peace and humanitarian issues while continuing to help his fellow Veterans.