Pro­posed health fees far too steep for mil­i­tary

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

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

Springfield

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