When veterans and military folks hear “Thank you for your service” messages from Congress this Veteran’s Day, after they say “Thank you,” they need to say something else as well—“Do you support cutting my benefits?” They need to ask both parties that same question, and be prepared to dig deep to find the truth. As Congress casts around to cut spending, they have been tempted to tamper with these hard-earned benefits, and that would be detrimental not only to the individuals involved, but also to our military and our nation.
I first have to confess that, while my husband does not collect any benefits nor does he use the VA health care system, I am more than a neutral observer. Almost every man in my family served, my husband grew up on military bases, and I met and married him while he was in the Army, so I was a military spouse. I am proud of them and the millions of others who have answered America’s call. I also know what these men and women and their families sacrificed to answer that call. While it is an honor to serve, they continuously experience so many challenges. Leaving loved ones, moving the family frequently, accepting difficult assignments because they cannot turn them down, fighting wars that strain marriages and often terrify the children—all these situations leave lasting scars. Troops and their families miss birthday celebrations, weddings, births, and funerals. Americans owe more than words of thanks, and we know it. That’s why you never hear citizens demand that we cut the military and veterans benefits. People know that they were earned.
Americans are actually upset when they find out that troops and vets are not receiving excellent treatment. Remember when they found out that conditions at Walter Reed and other military facilities were bad? I was serving on the House Armed Services Committee, and constituents were outraged and wanted us to fix it fast. When Congress passed the new GI Bill of Rights to help this new generation go to college after serving in a war zone, Americans were very supportive. When we passed the largest increase in funding in history for the Veterans Administration (VA), there was wonderful bipartisan support, as there should be. And now, hopefully, there will be bipartisan resistance to any partisan or bipartisan effort to shrink benefits.
What benefit cuts are being considered? The Veterans of Foreign Wars has a list called the “10 for 10” plan, saying that Congress or the Pentagon wants to cut 10 benefits to pay for 10 years of war. This list includes increasing healthcare premiums for retirees, increasing pharmacy fees for troops, families, and retirees, freezing military pay, and ending government subsidies to military commissaries. The worst idea on this list is to eliminate the 20-year military retirement plan. Those in uniform and their families always look forward, whenever they are at their most challenging points, to “going home” someday, with a secure pension alongside that heartfelt thank you. That pension also happens to be a terrific recruiting and retention incentive for the volunteer military, and it is ridiculous to change that. As American Legion National Commander Fang Wong said, “If our leaders in Washington are intent on making military life like the private sector, then that’s the path our young people will choose—the private sector!” My husband’s November issue of MOAA’s Military Officer states, “This isn’t just about equity. It’s about an attack on the core elements that sustain the quality career force.”
These are responsible, patriotic organizations. These organizations are full of good people from all different backgrounds and different political beliefs who loved this country enough to serve it. They still love our country and care deeply about its well-being and financial security. But they believe that in America, a deal is a deal, and they want our country to live up to its promises. They also know the risks if Congress tries to cut benefits to our military personnel and retirees and to our veterans. Congress and the Pentagon must listen.
Former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s First District from 2007-2011. She is seeking a third term in the November 2012 election. She wrote the proposal for and established a non-profit social service agency, which continues to serve all ages. She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.