Proposed health fees far too steep for military
At the Tomb of the Unknowns during the Veterans Day commemoration last November, President Obama declared to veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “The nation will be here for you as you have been there for the nation.” That pledge is about to be broken. If the health care fees suggested in the administration’s 2013 budget proposal are enacted, the nation will once again break faith with its returning defenders.
I am an Air Force “brat.” My father began his career as a 17-year-old machine-gunner on a B-17 in World War II and went on to serve during two additional wars, Korea and Vietnam. When he retired from the Air Force in 1965, he was promised that both he and my mother would get health care for life. That health care was to be provided without cost to them and was provided in a military facility. Since that era, veterans have experienced a drastic reduction in military health care facilities, the failed Champus system, Tricare and now the disgraceful fees being proposed in the current budget submission.
Decisions made during the Nixon administration resulted in the creation of that magnificent, all-volunteer force, a national treasure, that has been engaged for the past 11 years in the war on terrorism. The fees proposed in the 2013 budget will change the very nature of the force. With eight of my 33 years in the Marine Corps spent in recruiting, I am convinced that this and other budgetdriven cost-saving measures will seriously hurt recruiting and retention, and could very well bring an end to the allvolunteer force.
The defense budget is not the cause of our national financial crisis. In fact, the nation’s investment in defense has shrunk significantly over time. In historic terms, our federal government spends only a small portion on defense. The base budget this year provides $530 billion, 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product, and 4.5 percent when the expense of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are included. During the Cold War, defense spending was 7.5 percent of our national economy as expressed by GDP. And at the height of the Reagan military buildup in 1986, defense was 6.3 percent.
Likewise, military health care is not “breaking the defense budget,” as evidenced by the fact that Congress redirected $300 million in unused Tricare funds into largely unrelated medical research of little or no benefit to the military. Rather, it is a cost of doing business. Yet these proposed fees place the burden of correcting the nation’s fiscal woes directly on the shoulders of our military members and their families, who already have sacrificed above and beyond their fair share.
A retired Army master sergeant recently wrote me saying the new health care fees would claim more than 19 percent of his retirement pay. Shame on the administration, shame on Congress and shame on the nation if, through enactment of these disgraceful proposed health care fees, we once again dishonor the promises and contracts made with those who have put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us.
LT. GEN. JACK W. KLIMP