How the Proposed Budget Cuts Affect Military FamiliesLast week our senior enlisted leaders delivered testimony to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel regarding the proposed DoD budget and its impact on military families.  As a 12 year military spouse who has served on the homefront, I felt compelled to provide my perspective after hearing their testimony and to offer a counterpoint to the arguments I heard from DoD.

Years of living this military lifestyle filled with stressful moves to unknown duty stations and seeing the cost of war up front and personal, it was integral that our families have a thoughtful, engaged, online community for conversation to take place.  Simply said, I created USMC Life to do just that.

Today’s conversation centers on the impact of the proposed DoD cuts which is devastating to the retention and morale of our armed forces. What is even more worrisome, is the random chopping away of benefits without waiting for the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to release their findings about where the changes (if needed) should occur.

The cuts proposed by DoD and submitted as part of the President’s budget to Congress will impact our junior enlisted and families with chronic medical conditions and disabilities the hardest. Of course, not all of the cuts impact our families in the same manner and taken together, will be financially debilitating for families.

Here’s what is on the chopping block:

5% Cut to Housing Allowance:

This cut affects those living on and off base. Housing Privatization receives this money from families living aboard the installation to build and maintain new housing.  Much housing has been improved thanks to the influx of funds from the wartime efforts, however there is still work to be done.

A 5% reduction to the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) reduces the DoD’s own initiative to eliminate the out of pocket housing costs borne by our military families. Many families already pay out of pocket to live in safer neighborhoods or better school districts which aren’t taken into account when determining housing allowances.  Families will slowly feel the squeeze when they PCS.

1% vs. 1.8% Pay Raise

There has been a huge divide in the military/civilian pay gap for years and Congress has worked hard this past decade to close that gap. This year however, active duty servicemembers received the lowest pay raise in more than 50 years (we are a nation at war). Current law stipulates that Armed Forces personnel receive a 1.8% pay raise. A provision in the law allows the President to recommend a lower pay raise and Congress agreed.

Commissary Subsidy cut of $1.4 Billion

Currently the Commissary provides an approximate savings of 30% to eligible patrons. Some members who live near wholesale food stores or have the ability to purchase generic brands at large box retailers may attempt to duplicate those savings.

However, not all our families have access to these institutions. Commissaries at remote duty stations are integral to our families. Furthermore, remote families must calculate fuel and vehicle costs associated with driving into metropolitan areas for shopping and more.

What would happen if the subsidy is cut? The Commissary would function but would not be able to pass the savings onto our military families which would end in a slow death. Those hit hardest by Commissary closures are our junior enlisted families, especially those on food stamps, as well as families stationed at remote duty stations. Families will also be hit hard who don’t have a vehicle, or have limited access to one.

Moving to One Tricare Plan

The consolidation of TRICARE Prime, Extra and Standard into one plan is one of the more radical cuts proposed.

Families on active duty will lose access to care, endure lengthy waits (potentially months) to receive an appointment for care or referrals, and will be forced to pay co-pays. Families financially struggling may choose to forgo preventive care which leads to chronic diseases. Families with Exceptional Family Members (families with disabilities) will most likely be hit hardest with delayed doctor appointments and hefty medical expenses.

For the first time ever, military retirees under the age of 65 will be forced to pay a fee when they use the Military Treatment Facility (MTF). Retirees have already experienced problems in rural areas receiving mandatory refill prescriptions orders, due to recent postal office closures.

Benefits vs. Training

This shouldn’t even be a question – it doesn’t have to be bullets vs. benefits. We can have both. If I say nothing else, hear this: GRANDFATHER OUR TROOPS for any proposed changes.  We have fought wars, uprooted our families and been at the beck and call of this nation. Our nation’s heroes deserve better.

Tony Carr provides some great insights:

“Today’s uniformed leaders feel like they are trapped in a vicious budgetary cycle.  Congress won’t let them close unnecessary bases, end frivolous procurement programs, discontinue wasteful programs, or enact structural reforms. Nor can Congress be depended upon to keep our military forces clear of elective, protracted wars that are expensive in economic, human, and moral terms.

With so much budget space off-limits and facing the reality that our country’s strategic choices have slowed modernization, senior officers and NCOs have begun wrongly framing the budget dilemma as a choice between appropriate compensation and adequate readiness… between critical benefits and new equipment. This is a false choice. It’s a choice that avoids speaking truth to power. If allowed to drive the budget debate, this false choice will continue to mask unsustainable spending that is not advancing the nation’s defense. It will also unravel the formula upon which the vitality of the all-volunteer force depends.

Leadership is a tough charge.  It requires a great deal from those who undertake it, to include facing down powerful interests when the future of national defense hangs in the balance. If the all-volunteer force is to remain strong into the future and preclude the need for conscription or unacceptable risk of battlefield defeat when our country again finds itself faced with a dangerous adversary, its leaders will need to push Congress for spending cuts where they can truly be had without damaging defense: by closing bases, ending unnecessary weapons programs, fighting addiction to technology in areas where it doesn’t add value, and reducing bureaucratic bloat. There is plenty of room to reform the Department of Defense without doing so on the backs of our defenders.”

Decisions affecting the all-volunteer force for recruitment and keeping our best and brightest for retention is integral to national security. We must also not forget to follow through with the promises made to those military families and veterans who have sacrificed so much for our great nation.

COLA Cuts Fought and Won

Not too long ago, a small piece of legislation was slipped into a bill on a Friday just before Christmas 2013 which removed 1% of COLA (Cost of Living Allowance), taking away approximately $100,000 from our armed forces retirees: an earned benefit.

We set into motion one of the largest grassroots campaigns to protect military pay and built a vast alliance of military non-profits and organizations to champion against this unethical campaign, the likes of which has never been seen. USMC Life is proud to be a #KeepYourPromise founding member and together we champion for our government to honor their promises made to our troops who signed on the dotted line and gave all to this country.

You can bet that we will be watching the Department of Defense and Congress for any earned benefit cuts coming our way and will encourage our followers to vote their conscience at the election booth.

What Can You To Today?

You have an opinion, voice it. Contact your Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel today and let them know how these cuts will affect your family. Tell them your story and make a difference today.