Wednesday, November 21, 2012

US military will cut health care for troops and their families before we cut back on wars

Instead of cutting back our foreign military entanglements, the Congressional Budget Office and the Pentagon are looking to cut the pay raises and health care benefits for US troops and their families in the event of a "fiscal cliff."

The fact that many of our military families are on food stamps or other forms of welfare, and that military pay raises have not even kept pace with benefit raises for those on public assistance notwithstanding, the CBO believes that one way to mitigate the fiscal cliff is to cap future military pay raises:
The CBO says that any impact reducing pay increases might have on recruiting and retention can be mitigated by offering larger enlistment and reenlistment bonuses.   The CBO pay cap option would mean military pay would lose nine percent to private sector wage growth over the five-year period.
Apparently paying a decent wage to the people (and the families thereof) that we send overseas to fight and die in our wars is not a profound concern to the US government.  Indeed, that government apparently isn't even interested in knowing how many military families are living in hardship:

The Defense Department doesn’t dispute or confirm the current number, and instead, refers such requests to the Defense Finance and Accounting. 
“We are the agency that would be tasked to gather that information,” said Carol Garcia, DFAS spokesperson. “But we haven’t collected it and aren’t looking for it because we haven’t been asked to.”
Also on the table is reducing the value of military medical coverage for our soldiers' families:
The CBO also suggests an option to raise TRICARE enrollment fees, deductibles or copayments, actions also proposed by the administration last April.  For working-age retirees, those under 65, fee hikes should be phased over five years and use a “tiered approach” so that senior-grade retirees would pay higher fees than lower-ranking retirees. 
Philpott reports that the CBO says higher enrollment fees not only would raise collections but also discourage retirees and families from relying on military health care versus civilian employer health insurance.  Higher deductibles and co-pays would restrain use of medical services too and also lower TRICARE costs.
I want you to re-read that last sentence in bold very carefully.  This marks a public statement by the Congressional Budget Office that the government intends to raise premiums explicitly to keep people from receiving medical services.  This is what the US government means when it talks about "lowering health care costs," and it belies the rhetoric that the government is interested in insuring that all Americans have access to quality health care.

No, this is the government saying, "We're going to take our military population, which is already so underpaid that thousands of our soldiers' families are on food stamps, and not only cap their future pay raises, but also ration their health care."

Now, as a Libertarian, I need to do a little educating here.  One facet of Libertarianism is the belief that government intervention should be minimalist at best.  And we could have achieved this goal with respect to the US military a long time ago by simply monetizing the benefits provided to soldiers and their families.  I recall clearly on active duty that we were always told, "Yes, your pay is low, but if you add in the value of all your benefits, it goes up to this figure."  So let's just pay our troops the value of those benefits and let them shop for themselves.  Doing so, however, is not currently possible because that would eliminate vast levels of government bureaucracy.  But the sad fact is that we could afford to pay our average enlisted infantryman $100K per year and still save money if not for that bloated support system.

A second point:  an equally important tenet of Libertarianism is is that you cannot actually trust the government (or other big organizations like mega-corporations) to keep their promises.

An example relevant to the current conversation:  in August, President Barack Obama promised soldiers and their families that neither their pay nor their health care benefits would be on the table in the fiscal cliff/sequestration crisis:

President Barack Obama will protect all accounts used to pay for military personnel from deep spending cuts that would kick in Jan. 2 if lawmakers fail to pass a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction measure, placing a bulls eye on civilian employees and weapon programs. 
The move "is considered to be in the national interest to safeguard the resources to compensate the men and women service to defend our nation and to maintain the force levels required for national security," Obama writes in a July 31 memo sent to congressional leaders.
Now that the election is over, military families, surprise surprise--another politician lied to you to get your vote.

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