Cuts are hitting military service members all at once, from pay to meals to R&R. And although senior Pentagon officials including Vice Admiral William F. Moran and Sheryl E. Murray are claiming troops care more about equipment and training than income, it seems opinions voiced within the ranks vary significantly from the claims of military brass. Considering the impact deployments have on families, let alone risks taken by troops, it seems only right military members not only maintain but see increases to their pay. But with the current changes, some of which began June 1st, 2014, and some of which begin at the start of 2015’s fiscal year, troops will not only lose benefits but also have expected wage increases slow noticeably. None of these changes should be acceptable losses to those in positions of power.
Loss of Income
Pay cuts include the loss of the imminent-danger-pay (IDP) designation for all branches of the military and affect almost every major waterway where the Navy currently sails. The Navy cuts also affect sailors deployed in 15 countries and includes East Timor, Haiti, Liberia, Oman, Rwanda, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. The average wage loss will be $225 per service member; IDP was also tax-free. But that’s not all. The Defense Department has decertified 20 areas for IDP, a move guaranteed to affect the lives and bills for tens of thousands of troops, whatever branch of service they are in. In 2012, 194,189 service members received IDP, and now that cuts are in effect, that number will drop by at least 50,000. Pay raises are also being cut across the board, and with the current proposal being 1% for the coming year, service members will be well under the civilian population’s wage growth rate of 1.8%.
Health Care “Reform”
Perhaps less-reported are the medical coverage cutbacks. Many forms of military health care are slated for an increase in out-of-pocket expenses thanks to rising co-pays and other costs. The current estimated increase for Tricare, specifically, would double a family of four’s annual expenses. The overall increase in expenses is pegged at 8-11%. Included in changes which will significantly impact military families is what is being termed a “slowly-evolving change” in BAH allowances. Currently, the Defense Department provides 100% backing for BAH, but that will change by 5-6% as service members are required to pay more out of their own pockets. In an attempt to soften the blow, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with troops at Fort Eustis and reminded the gathered troops that, as recently as the 1990’s, service members paid 18% of BAH.
According to Norb Ryan, the president of the Military Officers Association of America, the combination of the two pay caps and the BAH cuts means “an E-5 with 10 years’ service and a family of four will see an annual loss of $1,400.”
Only Two Squares a Day
And then there are the cuts in hot meals for deployed troops. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who so famously said “An Army marches on its stomach,” a statement with more truth to it than budget-makers seem to comprehend. The Duke of Wellington also once credited winning a battle to his troops being fed a hot breakfast, while the enemy had none. In Afghanistan, hot meals have been cut back to two a day. No more breakfast or mid-rats are being supplied, and although those in power claim the changes have nothing to do with saving money and everything to do with reducing the number of contractors needed to prepare meals, those claims in themselves seem contradictory. Deployed troops have been requesting more food packages be sent from home, a seemingly logical move until you consider the mail system in Afghanistan has also been disrupted. Not all deployed troops are actually receiving mail, due in part to a lack of contractors with the necessary mail-handling licenses.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
The cuts rolling in slowly but surely seem endless and include the end of two-week R&R for troops on 12-month deployments and the atrociously under-reported cuts on firearms and ammunition. And, of course, plans to cut tens of thousands of troops overall, effectively returning the nation to World War II numbers, may be the most ludicrous of all.
There is some irony to senior officials claiming troops care only for quality of training and equipment while the military looks for the cheapest armor and debates from their desks which troops do and do not need firearms. All troops deserve the morale boost and respect of hot meals and consistent pay, and those deployed need those things even more. How can the current administration expect new enlistees, let alone for current service members to want to re-up when their time is through, when rampant cuts are being made? More importantly, doesn’t it make more financial sense to retain already-trained and experienced troops than it does to start at square one with replacements when current troops leave out of a justified sense of betrayal?
It is the responsibility of the government and all American citizens to show their gratitude for service members’ many sacrifices by providing what the troops need. As Abraham Lincoln once said, it is our duty “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”
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