VFW REACTS TO PENTAGON BUDGET PRIORITIES

VFW REACTS TO PENTAGON BUDGET PRIORITIES
Tuesday, February 7, 2012

VFW leaders voice their concerns regarding key veterans’ issues.

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Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta unveiled the Pentagon’s budget priorities this week for fiscal year 2013, reflecting the Administration’s calls for a leaner, more agile force as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down. In light of pledges from the Pentagon to ensure that the U.S. military remains a lethal and effective force, VFW leaders voiced their concerns over proposed cuts that could dilute the quality of America’s military and possibly threaten the continued viability of the all-volunteer force.

The Defense Department is expected to request $525 billion as a baseline budget for FY2013, with an additional $88.4 billion for overseas contingencies; $6 billion and $27 billion less, respectively, than FY 2012. Five key strategies for DoD include driving the future military force, which will be smaller and leaner; repositioning with more emphasis on Asia-Pacific and the Middle East; strengthening through better alliances and partnerships; and developing an extremely agile and deadly force, which will be second-to-none in technology and capability.

Some key priorities and choices that could be made over the next five years include:

  • To reduce the active Army from 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers, and the active Marine Corps from 202,000 to 182,000.
  • To reduce the number of Air Force tactical air squadrons from 60 to 54, but maintain the current bomber fleet, as well as the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers, 10 air wings and big-deck amphibious fleet.
  • To fund a new bomber, increase cruise missile capacity in future Virginia-class submarines, and increase investments in cyber capabilities, special operations, homeland missile defense, countering weapons of mass destruction, and projecting power into denied areas.
  • To provide service members full pay raises in 2013 and 2014, but begin limiting increases starting in 2015.
  • To ask Congress to conduct a comprehensive review of the military retirement system, while grandfathering all current retirees and service members into the existing system.
  • To recommend increases in healthcare fees, co-pays and deductibles for military retirees using a tiered approach, based on their retired pay, as well as create a TRICARE for Life enrollment fee for retirees age 65 and older. Exempt would be medical retirees and survivors of those who died on active duty.

In response to the announcement, VFW leaders said they continue to be wary of plans to change the current military retirement system and potentially saddle military retirees with higher health care costs.

“We are pleased to continually hear pledges from the White House and Pentagon that retirees and those serving in uniform today will be grandfathered under the old system, but our concern is for tomorrow’s recruit,” said VFW Executive Director Bob Wallace. “Asking someone to first donate 20 or more years of their youth in return for the immediate receipt of a modest retirement pay is a contract, which cannot be compared with any civilian occupation or retirement plan. We are concerned, however, that by introducing civilian retirement plans into a military world it has zero in common with, could signal the end of the all-volunteer force. A lot of trial balloons have been floated, so we have to wait for details.”

Traditionally, only eight percent of America’s military men and women serve until retirement age. With already low retention of career service members, the VFW is concerned that too many new proposed incentives for highly-trained and highly-qualified leaders to leave the military early could thin the force to such an extent that the last person standing, not the best qualified, could serve as the next service chief or senior enlisted leader. Plus, too many incentives to leave could also mean a watered down G.I. Bill for veterans.

VFW leaders went on to say that increasing enrollment fees and copayments while reducing services for retirees is a breach of faith with all who choose to serve; a sentiment the VFW has consistently voiced since launching the “10 for 10” campaign against military and veterans’ benefits cuts last summer.

When discussions of an overhaul to the military retirement first surfaced, the VFW polled readers on this blog about their inclinations to serve a full career with watered-down retirement benefits. The results, which can be viewed here, indicated to VFW leaders that such changes would threaten the continued viability of the all-volunteer force by incentivizing the best and brightest to leave early in their military careers.

Your VFW will continue to fight against these proposals, ensuring that America’s military remains strong and sustainable for future generations. Keep posted to this blog for updates.

(Image: Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief the press on major budget decisions stemming from the defense strategic guidance at the Pentagon, Jan. 26, 2012. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley.)