Shocker! Veterans lose ground in budget cutting

Alaska Older Veterans Report

Military members and veterans lost on almost every big benefit fight waged in the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill, according to many veterans organizations. However, there was no shortage of bonus money for the disgraced VA employees that put veterans on the waiting list until they died. Or the one who replaced them and who scammed the taxpayers (or more correctly, your kids and grandchildren) out of bogus moving expense money.

The legislation is still awaiting a promised presidential veto that could end up destroying nine months of compromise on the annual military budget by our brave, tireless lawmakers. But in the lobbying arena, Pentagon penny pinchers who raided military personnel spending accounts already can declare victory, having swayed lawmakers to their side. Let’s call it a “peace dividend,” or rename the bill “The Public Sector Union and Defense Company Relief Act.” I like the sound of that name.

If the measure becomes law, troops would see growth in the Basic Allowance for Housing steadily shrink to only 95 percent of average off-base housing costs. I didn’t see any decrease in per diem for Congress or government workers.Tricare co-pays would rise on a host of prescriptions from off-base retail pharmacies, so retirees who decided to live out of commuting distance from a military installation will just have to suck it up. Sorry Charlie, we never put it in writing.

Troops are in line for a 1.3 percent pay raise in January, a full percentage point below expected growth this year in average private-sector wages, continuing the downward trend in the military pay, causing them to fall below civilian levels.

Well, I don’t know about you but I am going to party like a Kennedy with my new wealth.

According to the Military Officers Assoc. of America (MOAA), “Lawmakers once again want defense officials to offer a plan in coming months to completely wean the military commissary and exchange systems off taxpayer funding, potentially leading to fewer discounts or offerings at the stores”.

“We have refugees to support. We can’t be spending money on crazy stuff like national defense,” said a spokesperson on Al-Jazeera TV. (Okay, I might have made that last statement up.)

We have talked about this demand before in an earlier column. At JBER, the government shutdown occurred at the same time as a new Sam’s Club opened just past the Muldoon gate. The for-profit private sector superstore offered military personnel free or discounted club memberships while the base was shut down. Figures from the military claim the commissary lost almost one third of their volume, and it hasn’t returned.

Maybe if the commissary personnel weren’t busy talking to each other or hiding in the office, we would come back more often. I, for one, before the shutdown, spent almost all my food budget on base. But not now. Discourteous cashiers, non-existent customer service and empty shelves have made me a Sam’s Club fan. Also, everything I can buy locally, I do. And I don’t care if I ever have to stand in another line at the end of the month on base.

Amazing what an industrious young man like Arkansas native Sam Walton can do with two five and dime stores purchased for $20,000 in the 1960s. That is the United States of America we should aspire to once again and stop trying to import more cheap labor to displace U.S. workers. I know some on the right side of the aisle say, ‘the Democrats are importing new voters.” What I will tell people who feel like that is, at least, these voters are alive!

“Over the last ten years, the (military) community has fought hard to increase benefits to catch troops up to the private sector,” said Bill Rausch, political director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Now, after all the battles we’ve won, we’re starting to see retreats. That’s concerning to us.”

House lawmakers had pushed against nearly all of those changes in earlier drafts of the authorization bill, agreeing with advocates who argued that the combined compensation trims would drastically reduce military families’ purchasing power.

Wow, you think? Give those lawmakers a Mensa card.

Pentagon planners adroitly argued that “the savings are needed to rein in personnel costs, and that troops would be able to accept reductions in some anticipated pays and benefits in exchange for better training and equipment support.”

Let me translate for you. Since our military service personnel and retirees have nowhere near the juice of the public sector unions and the defense companies, we vets and military members lose.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have heard that song before.

An MOAA spokesman said, “We’re on a trajectory here that could send the all-volunteer force into a ditch,” noting that lawmakers “have argued that each of these cuts in isolation wouldn’t be overwhelming, but we’re looking at three years of lower pay (raises) now. We had hoped to see the Senate align with the House, not the other way around.”

Those trims won’t become a reality if President Obama vetoes the bill over an unrelated budget fight.

Well, just when you thought the POTUS didn’t care for the military. Who knew? See. I have been telling you. Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves, you doubting Thomases.

The White House has yet to sign or to veto the legislation in the bill.

But MOAA and other military advocacy groups have argued against a presidential veto, calling the legislation a critical policy measure that cannot be delayed. The measure has been signed into law in each of the last 53 years and includes a host of other specialty pay and bonus reauthorizations.

“The fact is that we are still a nation at war, and this legislation is vital to fulfilling wartime requirements,” MOAA officials said in a statement. “There comes a time when this year’s legislative business must be completed, and remaining disagreements left to be addressed next year.”

And the beat goes on.

Mike Dryden is a retired Army Major and current board member of Older Persons Action Group, Inc.

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