VFW Call to Action
Stop Balancing Budget on Backs of Military and Veterans
October 18, 2011
The national commander of the country's largest and oldest major combat veterans organization is asking his 2 million members and all their friends and families to urge their elected officials to not break faith with the nation's military and veterans' communities.
"We and our families who have and continue to serve and sacrifice the most need to raise our voices loudly and clearly before the nation's debt is placed squarely on the shoulders of our military families and veterans," said Richard L. DeNoyer, a retired Marine and Vietnam combat veteran who leads the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and its Auxiliaries.
"It is critical that our voices not be lost in the ongoing budget debate that seems to now equate national service and sacrifice with the size of healthcare premiums," he said. "The 'people programs' inside the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are expensive because it takes people to fight our wars, and with less than one percent of our citizens currently in uniform, any degradation of these hard fought-for programs will break faith with those who sacrifice the most, and will place the continued viability of the all volunteer military in serious jeopardy."
The VFW national commander's call to action is the result of three letters sent last Friday by the leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee and both House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. The letters support or suggest possible ways to eliminate or reduce quality of life programs and benefits in order to avoid more drastic budget cuts should a deficit reduction deal fail to pass by Thanksgiving Day.
Sending individual letters were Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.). The joint Senate/House VA Committee letter was signed by Senate Chairman (and Select Committee member) Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and House Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Ranking Member Bob Filner (D-Calif.).
The joint VA committee letter was short on specifics, since the four signers believe existing laws exempt all VA programs from sequestration — forced reductions without discussion or modification — but they did provide an eight-page summary of cost-saving acts that Congress considered in the past to reduce, modify or extend VA programs ranging from disability compensation to educational assistance. Another attachment was a one-page list of current proposals to tighten income verification requirements, slow GI Bill tuition expenditures, reaffirm VA pensions to significantly disabled veterans, and round down annual cost of living adjustments to the nearest dollar, while delaying payment for one month.
The individual letters signed by Levin and McCain were far more ominous, because they both agreed with proposals President Obama announced last month to create a commission to examine the current military retirement system, and to alter military TRICARE benefits for those retirees age 65 and older. The president also wants to increase pharmacy copayments for military dependents and retirees of all ages, but both senators suggested the proposal needs further DOD review.
Regarding the military retirement system, Levin wrote the commission should expand its scope to "encompass all aspects of military compensation, including the current system of basic pay, allowances (including the housing allowance), special and incentive pays, and health care, as well as the tax treatment of the various components of military pay." Levin also agreed with the president's proposal to institute a $200 annual fee for military retirees age 65 and older who are enrolled in TRICARE for Life, but he would link future fee increases to the percentage amount of a retiree's annual cost of living adjustment. The president's proposal has no such linkage, and if approved as is, TRICARE for Life fees would rise from the recommended $200 in 2012 to $295 in 2013. This would be in addition to Medicare Part B payments they must already pay.
The senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee also supports the presidential commission to review the military retirement system, and agrees with Levin that the entire military compensation package needs to be included. Regarding TRICARE, McCain recommended that the Select Committee also consider a Congressional Budget Office proposal to exclude working age military retirees from enrolling in TRICARE Prime, which has the least out-of-pocket expenses. Retirees and their families would instead have the option of enrolling in TRICARE Standard or Extra.
"The VFW is very disappointed in Senator Levin and Senator McCain for not only acquiescing to the president's proposals, but for suggesting additional ways to further balance the budget on the backs of military members, families and retirees," said DeNoyer, of Middleton, Mass.
"Our nation's financial situation cannot be solved by breaking faith with those who singlehandedly fight our nations wars — be it today or tomorrow," he said. "You cannot pass along our nation's security to future generations just for short-term financial gain. That is an extremely dangerous assumption, and totally disregards the fact that there is an inherent cost that our nation must be more than willing to pay in exchange for asking someone to join, much less donate 20 or more years of their youth to defend our country."
In his call to action, the VFW national commander is now asking his 2 million members, along with their friends and family, to contact their congressional members today to urge their support to protect the current military retirement and pay and allowance system, all TRICARE programs for military families and retirees, and all VA healthcare programs for wounded, ill and injured veterans. Click here to contact your members of Congress.
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