Archive for September, 2012

Poll: Obama Losing Ground Among Veterans

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

obama 01President Obama is hemorrhaging vet votes. That’s the takeaway from this story from Politco.com:

“The Obama campaign had been hoping that veterans and their families — especially among the post-Sept. 11 generation that served in Iraq and Afghanistan — would be part of their path to victory: They’re a high turn-out demographic and concentrated in battleground states, with nearly 1 million each in North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, and 1.6 million in Florida.”

Veterans have long tended strongly to pull the lever for the GOP – going back to Reagan at least. But according to Politico, the Obama campaign thought that they could draw younger veterans – those who are veterans of the Global War on Terror – into the Obama fold.

Romney is winning the veteran vote by 20 percent. Obama had held a lead with Afghanistan and Iraq vets last spring – before the GOP even had a candidate. But Romney has pulled ahead substantially: 48 percent to 34 percent.

Why has Obama lost so much ground among younger veterans so quickly?

Well, as hinted above, one issue is that Obama polled better against a generic GOP candidate with this crew than against Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. The previous polls were taken during the GOP primary, with the Republican candidates tearing each other apart in the press and in debates.

Once their negative ads on each other stop, and Republicans could rally around a candidate, more and more younger veterans began to accept Romney as a potential commander in chief.

Obama, on the other hand, is clearly struggling with the mission in Afghanistan. The formal Afghan surge ended ignominiously this week, just as Allied forces in Afghanistan are reeling from a spectacular insurgent attack that took out six Marine jets and a squadron commander. American forces have also abandoned joint patrolling with Afghan forces in the wake of a number of “green on blue” shootings.

As a result, the Administration is floundering without a strategy in Afghanistan. The Taliban has successfully short-circuited a key element of U.S. engagement there. Afghanistan veterans are going to weigh this much more heavily than arcane fights about pension reforms when very few vets will be receiving pensions anyway. (Career military has been pro-GOP for generations. Democrats have historically had more success with non-careerists and enlisted ranks).

Obama’s credibility is also damaged by a series of gaffes, reported last week, including his apparent inability to say “corpsman” correctly and the DNC convention blunder in which they had a number of key speakers appear in front of a dramatic photo backdrop of Russian ships.

Finally, the Administration’s debacle in Benghazi, in which an American consulate was overrun, an ambassador murdered, and the Administration resolutely denied that the attack was even premeditated for a week, is likely to weigh heavily on younger veterans’ minds. Many of them have themselves served in isolated compounds in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The Administration’s optics with that foreign policy disaster are atrocious.

 

Are you a veteran? Are you supporting Obama or Romney in this election? Which candidate do you think will do a better job with both foreign affairs and domestic issues?

Absentee Ballot Deadline Passes – But You May Still Be Able to Vote

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

describe the imageThe critical 45-day deadline for mailing absentee ballots to military voters overseas has arrived. To comply with the provisions of the Military Overseas Voting and Empowerment Act of 2009 (The MOVE Act), county elections officials must be licking stamps and putting absentee ballots in the mail by today, the 22nd of September.

The law imposed four new provisions on elections officials:

  • The usual requirement for a witnessing signature on military absentee ballots was relaxed.
  • The law requires absentee ballots to be mailed not less than 45 days ahead of time.
  • Electronic ballots must be made available for download.
  • Acceptance of federal write-in ballots was expanded.

However, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, 22 states are still not in full compliance with all four provisions of the MOVE Act.

It’s Not Necessarily Too Late

Just because the mailing deadline for paper ballots is here does not necessarily mean overseas voters won’t be able to get a ballot. Many states and counties make their ballots available online for download, which saves quite a bit of time in transit.

To find out more information specific to your jurisdiction, register to vote, and obtain a ballot, visit the Website for the Federal Voting Assistance Program. (Civilians click here.)

History of Military Absentee Ballot Disputes

Military absentee ballots were a hotly contested issue in the 2000 presidential election, during which lawyers for the Democratic candidates for President and Vice President, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, filed suit to block elections officials from counting certain military absentee ballots that were mailed prior to the election, but which were received after the deadline through no fault of the servicemember. The Democrats also fought to disqualify ballots that arrived prior to the deadline, but without a postmark.

It was not uncommon for military mail from overseas to lack a postmark at that time.

As the fight over Florida’s 25 electoral votes heated up in 2000, the Presidential election hung in the balance. With only hundreds of votes separating the two candidates, Democrats were concerned that overseas military ballots still arriving in Florida would tilt the scales in favor of George W. Bush, since military voters historically trend Republican.

A five page memo, authored by Mark Herron, an attorney for the Gore Campaign, surfaced, in which a series of strategies for local county level attorneys to disqualify military votes on various technicalities. The full memo is available here.

The memo was never intended to become public. However, a local Democratic attorney sent a copy to the county courthouse, where it became a public record.

Senate Republicans Block Controversial Veterans Jobs Bill

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

CongressSenate Republicans rallied to block a controversial $1 billion bill that would have created temporary jobs for veterans within the National Park System. The law, the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012, was modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps, a much broader jobs program, primarily for young, unemployed people, during the Great Depression. The law also would have helped local officials hire veterans for certain “first responder” jobs in emergency services, such as police and fire departments. The law would also have extended funding for the “TAP” program, which provided funding for entrepreneurship training for veterans.

The bill was a legislative priority for the Obama Administration, which is eager to be seen creating jobs. But Democrats, who hold a majority in the Senate, were unable to reach the 60-vote majority that would bring it to a vote.

Democrats pointed out that unemployment amongst GWOT and veterans is over 10 percent, and assert that the jobs are desperately needed by this population. However, Democratic Senators admitted that they did not know how many jobs would be created by the $1 billion expenditure.

Republicans objected to the measure on a number of grounds: Earlier this week, Senator Rand Paul unsuccessfully moved to have the bill amended with a provision that would tie federal aid to Pakistan with the release of a key informant in the hunt for Bin Ladin, now serving time in a Pakistani prison for treason.

Republican Tom Coburn also stated that the U.S. already has six jobs programs already earmarked for veterans – and little accounting of how effective these jobs programs are.

Republicans also objected to the $1 billion price tag, coming at a time when other government programs were being rolled back.

Some GOP members objected to the provision in the law that exempted Vietnam-era veterans from consideration for the program.

Additionally, the Republicans also objected on procedural grounds, stating that the Constitution requires spending and budget matters to originate in the House, not the Senate. The law is not expected to pass the Republican-led House of Representatives.

And finally, Republicans also pointed out that the bill did not conform to the Budget Control Act of 2011, which imposes a zero sum game on all Senate committees for new spending. If any committee wants to add funding for any veterans program, it must strip that money from another veterans program.

According to Republicans, the bill violated budget caps agreed to by both parties last year. Republicans raised a point of order pointing out the violation of the Budget Control Act.

A few Republicans did break ranks and vote to move the bill forward: Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both from Maine.

Murkowski’s state has a large number of National Park facilities that would stand to benefit from the bill. Senators Inhofe (Illinois) and Kirk (Oklahoma), both Republicans, did not cast votes. Full roll call is available here.

Veterans groups generally support the bill. The President of the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America – historically a Democrat-friendly advocacy group – issued a blistering statement:

“This Congress let partisan bickering stand in the way of putting thousands of America’s heroes back to work. Lowering veteran unemployment is something both parties should be able to agree on – even in an election year, election politics should never stand in the way of creating job opportunities for our nation’s veterans, especially with an official 10.9% unemployment rate. We hope constituents, veterans and their families across the country will hold the Senate accountable for this failure.

The blockage of the Veterans Job Corps Act, a bipartisan effort authored by Senators Murray, Burr, Boozman, Heller and Toomey, should outrage all Americans. This bill was smart bipartisan policy that would put veterans back into service for their communities as policemen, firefighters and first responders. The result of today’s vote creates tremendous doubt that this Congress will be able to pass any additional veterans legislation in 2012. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans should not have to wait until 2013 for critical support from Congress.”

The bill didn’t just receive support from the Democratic-leaning IAVA, though. The Veterans Jobs Corps Act also received conceptual support from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW also opposed the provisions of the Budget Control Act – the law that threatens a series of draconian cuts across all federal departments under sequestration, if Congress does not sooner strike a deal to limit spending.

Philadelphia Eagles’ Receiver donates $50,000 to Wounded Warrior Project

Posted by Charlotte Webster

Jimmy Jackson was a sergeant in the Army who earned two Purple Hearts and two bronze stars serving in the Vietnam War. When his first cousin, Bill Jackson, passed away due to pancreatic cancer in 2009, the longtime Philadelphia resident, had a new mission: he became a surrogate father to his cousin’s son, newly drafted Philadelphia Eagles’ receiver DeSean Jackson.

“The more I hung around him and spent time with him, I could tell how fighting in Vietnam affected his life after the war – injuries, mentally,” Jackson said Tuesday. “I really couldn’t imagine what he went through and what he saw on an everyday basis when he was in the war.”

Jimmy Jackson became the inspiration for the Eagles’ receivers getting involved with the Wounded Warrior Project. In a presentation at Fort Dix, NJ on September 11, DeSean Jackson donated $50,000 to the organization.

DeSean Jackson at Fort Dix

“The Wounded Warrior Project is a great organization and this is something that I feel very grateful and blessed to be able to do,” Jackson said in a statement. “My cousin, Jimmy Jackson, was a Sergeant E5 and won two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars after serving in Vietnam.

“After seeing what he’s dealt with throughout his life, this is a cause that really hits home for me. The people in the military put their lives on the line for us every day. I think it’s important to recognize the great service they provide for this country, especially at this time of year.

“I’m excited to meet some of the soldiers and let them know how much I appreciate what they do. They are true heroes.”

After presenting his donation at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the athlete signed autographs for soldiers and alumni of Wounded Warrior, played cards, shot pool, posed for pictures, and tossed a football around.

 

(Photo credit: ABClocal)

Football legend opens Army Suicide Prevention Month Health Fair at Pentagon

Posted by Charlotte Webster

Herschel Walker at PentagonDallas Cowboy legend and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker has a message for service members that he wants them to hear loud and clear. “There is no shame in asking for help. I did.”

On hand to sign autographs for fans, Walker opened the Army Suicide Prevention Month Health Fair in the Pentagon courtyard, Sept 12. He told his story of silent suffering with what was once known as multiple personality disorder (now dissociative identity disorder), a mental illness that affects a person’s behavior and memory. In his 2008 memoir, “Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder,” Walker unveils his struggles with maintaining close relationships, feelings of being “out of control,” and his inability to remember events in his life – including the day he received the Heisman trophy.

Walker sought professional help, and told his story to attendees in support of the Army’s effort to raise awareness and bring help to members of its ranks who may struggle with mental illness.

Walker is also a national spokesman for Freedom Care, and has brought his message to military servicemembers at more than 45 military installations.

Freedom Care is a specialized military treatment program with multiple inpatient and residential locations in the U.S. They specialize in combat PTSD, addiction, PTSD/addiction dual diagnosis, general psychiatric diagnoses, and woman’s issues, including military sexual trauma and eating disorders.

 

(Photo: Alfredo Barraza, US Army Reserve)​

Some Sequestration Details Released by White House

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

VA Sequestration Panetta$54.7 billion; the amount of funding the Department of Defense will automatically lose on January 2nd, 2013 to the mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration. The personnel accounts (military payroll) and the Department of Veteran Affairs exemption still stand. This is only the first cut that sequestration mandates over a ten year period, adding up to approximately $500 billion in cuts overall to defense.

Sequestration is the requirement, by law, to automatically balance the national budget with mandatory cuts across the board if Congress cannot create a balanced budget. Cuts will come at the expense of family services, procurement, and modernization funding, just to name a few. However, the release from the White House is extremely “soft”; it does not detail exactly which areas the cuts will come from nor exactly how much money will be taken from each department. It simply deducts the same minimum percentage off of each program as listed within the sequestration law (9.4 to 10 percent for defense) within the entire Department of Defense budget, with no variation. The report states “would be able to shift funds to ensure war fighting and critical military readiness capabilities were not degraded,” yet gives no detail or guidelines on who would determine what would be cut and where.

What does that mean for you?  Here are just a few of the numbers

  • Navy shipbuilding-down $2.1 billion
  • Base housing maintenance and upkeep-down $121 million
  • Army ammunition-down $229 million

Between the lack of detail and the fact that the report was a week late, Congress is upset, and Congressional Republicans are furious. The White House responded with a statement “The White House has now painted a graphic picture of what that scenario will look like. For 13 months, Congress has had the opportunity to take the steps necessary to prevent the sequester from kicking in, but has failed to do so. It is my hope this report serves as a wake-up call.”  It also implies that Congress is using this issue as a political ploy, and need to solve this issue now, not after the presidential election in November.

This affects all parts of the national budget, not simply the Department of Defense. Cuts will come across the board (with the exception of a few exempted programs) and affect all Americans. Exemptions include Social Security and certain low-income program such as the Child Health Insurance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. What is not included are things we take for granted every day. Getting on a plane? Will there be enough air traffic controllers? Jonesing for a steak? Who inspected the processing facilities? The budget needs to be resolved now. Contact your Senator or Representative, give them a piece of your mind, and tell them to do their job. It’s what we elected them for. Don’t let them forget that.

Highlights from 2012 U.S. Military Paralympians

Posted by Kelli McKinney

Paralympian Jennifer SchubleThe torch’s eternal flame has been secured for another two years, the medal pedestals have been deconstructed, and just like that, the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics are over. The United States athletes turned in a solid performance, finishing sixth in the medal count overall with 31 gold, 29 silver and 38 bronze. Strong showings from our military athletes offered some of this years’ highlights.

Final medal count for our veteran paralympians:

  • Navy Lt. Brad Snyder, swimming: Two golds (400- and 100-meter freestyle), one silver (50m free)
  • Oscar Sanchez, hand cycling: One gold (mixed team relay), one bronze (time trial) – former Marine sergeant
  • Jennifer Schuble, cycling: One silver (500-meter time trial), one bronze (mixed team sprint) – former Army cadet
  • Kari Miller, sitting volleyball: Silver medal – former Army sergeant
  • Will Groulx, mixed wheelchair rugby: Bronze medal – former Navy second class petty officer
  • Rob Jones, rowing: Bronze medal (mixed doubles skills) – former Marine sergeant, current aspiring comedian
  • Angela Madsen, shot put: Bronze medal (shot put) Fifth place in javelin – former Marine private first class
  • Scot Severn, shot put: Bronze medal, eighth in javelin, ninth in discus – former Army specialist
Congratulations to all who competed, and thank you for your service. You are an inspiration to us all.

…Your Blogger at War

Posted by Charlotte Webster

Like everyone else, I was angered and horrified to see a gang of murderous radical Islamist thugs storm our consul in Benghazi, Libya, and murder an innocent diplomat and several other Americans.

The details of that attack – and our response to them – are still coming out. The ripple effects are even now spreading across the Islamic world, and it’s too soon to see how they will play out. First reports are often wrong, but I hope to have a piece out soon discussing the military aspects of this week’s events.

As of yet, I think there are too many conflicting reports for me to hang my hat on much yet, so we will see what information bears out and what information got distorted.

iraq soldiers in ramadi apr 2007 ap todd pitman aaFor now, for good or for ill, I want to share with you a time I was confronted with a situation with a number of parallels. I was a battle captain in a light infantry battalion TOC in the city of Ramadi. A couple of kilometers down the road, in the middle of town, there was a government center, where we pretty much had a constant garrison of our own troops. Other units were always traveling in and out of the government center on business of some kind.

I wrote this account shortly after the events, so they were still fresh in my mind.

Did I make the best decisions possible, under the circumstances? I think, in retrospect, we did well, but that was because I had the support of a great team of NCOs working in the TOC that day, who gave me the freedom to think through the problem. So if you read this, SSG Wiggins, SPC Segui, SPC Mondragon, SGT Garcia, SPC Ramkissoon, and SPC Gonzalez, (I know I’m leaving someone out… it’ll come to me), thank you. I couldn’t ask for a better team of pros that morning.

What follows below was my collection of ‘lessons learned’ from the operation. Here it is, verbatim:

Leadership Lessons from Iraq V

1. Army pre-commissioning programs tend to esteem reflexive decisiveness over measured judgment. But lieutenants and leaders in all kinds of contexts need both. And in my own experience (over 11 years commissioned service) the measured judgment part of the equation is immeasurably more important.

2. Officers, like all execs, are paid to think, and make sound and timely decisions. They are not paid to flap their pieholes on the radio, any more than they are paid to write unmotivating emails (or blog entries, for that matter.) Stay in your lane.

3. Put sharp soldiers on the radio. It’s worth the investment. Then take a minute to communicate your plan clearly. Your soldiers will make you look good. Monitor just to make sure.

4. Officers should work through their NCOs and maintain situational awareness.

5. You’re not a dog just doing what you’re told. In the urban, low-intensity warfare environment, firing your weapon is a commitment. Don’t make it lightly. 

 

(AP photo/Todd Pitman)

Obama Campaign In Apparent Violation of Federal Flag Law

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

The Obama campaign has attached its logo to a likeness of the American flag. Using the flag for advertising purposes is a violation of federal law.

Obama campaign flag 

Under the U.S. Flag Code (Chapter 1, Title 4 of the U.S. Code), the law specifically restricts those subject to U.S. Law from using the flag “for any advertising purpose.”

From Section 3 of that law:

“Any person who, within the District of Columbia, in any manner, for exhibition or display, shall place or cause to be placed any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawing, or any advertisement of any nature upon any flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America; or shall expose or cause to be exposed to public view any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign upon which shall have been printed, painted, or otherwise placed, or to which shall be attached, appended, affixed, or annexed any word, figure, mark, picture, design, or drawing, or any advertisement of any nature; or who, within the District of Columbia, shall manufacture, sell, expose for sale, or to public view, or give away or have in possession for sale, or to be given away or for use for any purpose, any article or substance being an article of merchandise, or a receptacle for merchandise or article or thing for carrying or transporting merchandise, upon which shall have been printed, painted, attached, or otherwise placed a representation of any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign, to advertise, call attention to, decorate, mark, or distinguish the article or substance on which so placed shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $100 or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days, or both, in the discretion of the court. The words “flag, standard, colors, or ensign”, as used herein, shall include any flag, standard, colors, ensign, or any picture or representation of either, or of any part or parts of either, made of any substance or represented on any substance, of any size evidently purporting to be either of said flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America or a picture or a representation of either, upon which shall be shown the colors, the stars and the stripes, in any number of either thereof, or of any part or parts of either, by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag, colors, standard, or ensign of the United States of America.”

As written, that particular section of the law specifically pertains to anyone within the District of Columbia. However, Paragraph (g), Section 8 is perfectly clear:

The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

…and paragraph (i):

The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose whatsoever.

The U.S. Flag Code was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 as Public Law Public Law 77-623; chapter 435.

There is no penalty for violation of the U.S. Flag Code: Enforcement has been found to be an unconstitutional violation of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution by the United States Supreme Court. However, the remainder of the law, aside from the penalty and enforcement provisions, stands.

History of Flag Violations

This isn’t the first time the Obama campaign has come under scrutiny for flag displays. In 2008, a photograph taken inside an Obama field campaign office also raised eyebrows. In that photograph, campaign staffers in Houston had hung a flag with the idealized image of Che Guevara in the traditional place of honor, on the right (the left facing the viewer).

Che Guevara flag 

In that incident, the Obama campaign pushed back, noting that the Houston office was staffed by volunteers, and was therefore not an official campaign outlet.

In the present case, however, the flag is being sold on the official Obama campaign Web site, for $35 per print.

Here is a screen capture of the flag, in context on the Obama campaign website:

Obama campaign site 

A call to the Barack Obama campaign press office seeking comment was not immediately returned. We will keep readers posted if and when the Obama campaign provides a statement.

Cuts are coming to TRICARE

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

money on chopping blockHealth care for military personnel and their dependents is a major line item in the Pentagon’s budget. Unless we take action to rein in expenditures, military health care costs will reach $65 billion per year – and TRICARE will cover some 9.6 million active duty troops, reservists and retirees.

And with sequestration looming, and budget cutbacks coming without a commensurate rollback in American military objectives and missions, it stands to reason that federal outlays for military health care are a tempting target for budget officials under the gun. Unless Congress intervenes, sequestration will kick in, and slash $54 billion from the Pentagon’s budget in fiscal year 2013.

It’s an easy sell to bureaucrats: Military health care expenditures don’t kill terrorists, or deter the Chinese and North Koreans from military aggression. At least not directly. It doesn’t even make for attractive recruiting posters.

But it’s not an easy sell to military families, nor to the American people. An early trial balloon proposal to increase TRICARE premiums was floated by the Obama Administration early in the President’s term. It was a political non-starter.

It is less so during a campaign year.

As it stands now, military health care programs are very much on the chopping block. Yes, military personnel programs are not subject to the 10 percent across-the-board bloodletting that other parts of the budget are subject to. So base pay and allowances won’t be immediately affected (unless Congress cuts them to avoid sequestration!)

But TRICARE doesn’t fall under the military’s personnel budget. Instead, military health care falls under the Pentagon’s operations budget. So unless officials can find enough waste, fraud and abuse in the system to offset the costs, something has to give. (And if it were that easy to find and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse, we’d already be doing it!).

Over the next five years or so, the fiscal situation confronting military planners is dire. According to reporting from the Army Times, the chief Defense comptroller – the bean-counter-in-chief at the Pentagon – we’re looking at about a $3 billion cut in military health care benefits.

Logically, the difference can be made up by reducing outlays for military health care, transferring money from elsewhere in the budget, or by increasing premiums for TRICARE benefits, or some combination of the three.

For his part, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has already pledged not to raise TRICARE premiums if he is elected. He made this public commitment last week at a speech to members of the American Legion.

That sounds good to military families. But whenever a candidate rules something out, he narrows his options. As it stands now, it’s unlikely that we will find $3 billion to plug the gap from elsewhere in the Pentagon budget within the next year. A good round of base closings will help. But base closings are furiously opposed by individual Congressional representatives. Military health care expenditures, considered broadly, do not have that constituency in Congress to protect them. Previous Administrations have attempted to save money in the defense budget by closing bases – only to be shut down by Congress.

The option that’s left to Romney is to slash expenditures – most likely largely on reimbursements to TRICARE providers.

That’s going to make it a lot more difficult for military families to get care – especially if they don’t live near a major installation with a military hospital. Reserve and Guard families who are dependent on TRICARE for care, as well as those stationed in smaller communities and posts will be most severely affected. Care providers will simply cease taking in TRICARE business, as it becomes less profitable.

We see this already with Medicaid: Doctors are reimbursed at rates that barely allow them to keep their doors open. The providers still in the Medicaid business – and increasingly, Medicare – adhere to the mass-population clinic model: Long wait times to see a doctor for five minutes, and the practice of “take-a-number” medicine.

The execution problem, though, is this: Even as Romney’s proposal would make it more difficult for military members, dependents and veterans to find TRICARE providers, long-time military benefits correspondent Tom Philpott notes that Romney is pushing a proposal to offload some of the overloaded VA systems’ case load to TRICARE.

President Obama’s Department of Defense, however, under Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and former Secretary Robert Gates – a Bush appointee originally, has already gone on record advocating an increase in health care costs for military families. Specifically, if the Obama administration has its way, some military families could see TRICARE Prime premiums increase three-fold over the next five years – from $520 per year all the way to over $2,480.

The Obama Administration’s proposals have veterans’ groups steamed: The compact we had with our troops when they were reenlisting 10, 15, 20 years ago, the argument goes, was that they would get free or extremely low-cost health care for life, if they did their 20 years with the military.

And they are right. That was the deal.

Now, a bit of soul-searching is in order. We just went through a hotly contested bailout of General Motors in 2009. One of the major obstacles to General Motors’ profitability was the huge burden of retiree health care costs. GM was still contractually obligated to pay for ‘Cadillac’ health care coverage for union workers long after they retired. Newer companies had no such obligations, and were eating GM for lunch.

The Obama Administration intervened in 2009, putting together a massive bailout package that protected the interests of the unions at the expense of GM’s bondholders and stockholders. In the end, members of unions loyal to the Obama Administration managed to have many of their interests preserved – it was the long-term non-union, salaried GM employees who took it on the chin.

At the time, the Obama Administration’s argument – and the labor unions’ – was that these health care benefits were a promise made to these workers, and that promise should be honored – precisely the opposite of the argument the Administration is making with regard to TRICARE benefits now.

Conservatives, of course, opposed the General Motors bailout, calling for the company to go through the traditional bankruptcy process. As a result of that process, the contracts with the unions would be renegotiated, either under Chapter 11 reorganization or Chapter 7 liquidation. Most or all of the more generous retirement benefits would have been eliminated to satisfy bondholders and holders of secured debt.  Yes, workers were promised those health care benefits into retirement as part of the overall compensation deal. But some conservatives who now argue that our promises of free health care for life to career military should be sacrosanct had no problem whatsoever with tearing up the Cadillac health plans in Michigan. “That’s why we have Medicare” goes the argument. Indeed, opposition to the bailout – letting the company go bankrupt and tearing up the long-term agreements with union retirees was by far the more popular position, at the time.

The difference, of course, is that auto workers generally retired around the time they qualified for Medicare – and were less likely to have suffered debilitating injuries. Veterans retire in their late 30s to their 40s after 20 years. Even 30-year veterans often have a ways to go before they qualify for Medicare.

Neither side has a monopoly on goodness and light. Both sides exhibit a certain amount of hypocrisy on the matter.

My modest proposal:

  • Coordinate retiree care with private sector medical care. If a retiree takes a civilian job and is eligible for a group health care plan at work, then that group plan is the first payer. TRICARE should only pick up what’s left over. We already do this with Medicare benefits.
  • Do the same thing for dependents that are covered through group plans at work.
  • Increase deductibles for treatment of non-service-related injuries and illnesses, especially for dependents. We can have separate deductibles for different ranks, based on ability to pay. Deductibles in TRICARE are already extremely low compared to plans available in the civilian sector – yet military families have steady paychecks and – until the personnel cuts come in earnest – have more job security than those in the private sector who are paying taxes to subsidize low premiums for military families.
  • Charge a modest premium per child. This simply reflects the real costs to the military health care system in providing care to young children.
  • Don’t take in married recruits. Former Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Carl E. Mundy Jr., tried to stop taking in brand new married enlistees during the last major force draw-down in 1993. He was overruled by then Secretary of Defense Les Aspin. But General Mundy was right.

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