Reflections Magazine June-July 2011
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More sacrifices for armed forces?


Nation's heroes deserve better

Despite American forces active in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, President Barack Obama continues to pursue reducing national defense spending. He has proposed that the Department of Defense (DOD) absorb over 80 percent of the cuts in next year's budget for discretionary programs.

Last month, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen warned that service members are likely to see decreases in their pay and benefits as the DOD faces a $400 million budget cut over the next 12 years.

Mr. Mullen told reporters that pay and benefits are the two areas where most of the money is spent. He said savings should be found in pay and benefits costs before cuts to programs and personnel. The cuts will likely be seen in the next few years to “start to generate cash in the out years.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said health care costs are “eating the Department of Defense alive.” Nearly 10 percent of the budget goes to health care benefits for active-duty and retired service members.

In a speech in May, Mr. Gates underscored that maintaining the weapons and the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who use them is becoming increasingly challenging. He said America’s defense enterprise has consumed higher level of resources as a matter of routine just to maintain staff and administer itself.

Many folks in the military community are indignant by statements made by Mr. Mullen and Mr. Gates that the reduction to spending will require reducing Tricare program (military health care) costs and military pay. The news of pay and benefits cuts come as military families are strained by the overhaul of re-enlistment bonuses, multiple deployments and mental health concerns such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury). 

They are also concerned that Mr. Gate’s incoming successor, Leon Panetta will drastically cut Pentagon spending—specifically pay and benefits. 

Mr. Panetta earned his reputation for his ability to reduce the budget during his service in Congress and while in the Clinton administration. He has implied that troop reduction may be necessary, but has not publically stated his view on compensation and benefits. 

Recently, Military Times reported that the use of food stamps in commissaries has increased by 23 percent in the first seven months of the current fiscal year and continues to rise. Defense officials say it is unclear how many of those who are using the coupons are active-duty families and that the trend is not necessarily caused by deficient pay. Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, told the Times that the increase is likely the condition of the economy but it may be time for a study on military SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) usage. 

Mr. Gates intends to propose a comprehensive defense review to ensure consequences to defense budget cuts are “well-thought-out.” He said the budget review “needs to be a process that is driven by analysis.”

DOD leaders will propose a list of potential cuts and estimates to the White House by the end of summer. Mr. Gates expects the report to include a re-examination of service member pay, retirement benefits, Tricare costs, weapons procurement and the on-going military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. He stated that leaders need to be conscious that a dramatic decrease in military spending will have ramifications for the power and capability of the nation’s defense services.

It is ironic that those who are making the greatest sacrifices for the nation are also now being asked to bear even more trials and tribulations during our debt and deficit crisis. Rather than asking our service men and women to make more sacrifices, the country should demonstrate their gratitude to the armed forces by accepting the brunt of spending cuts in other programs. In essence, the nation's heroes should be the last amongst to be asked to endure more suffering.

-Susan Oliver Nelson is a writer in Washington, DC.


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