Army family programs face a sustained period of consolidation and possible cutbacks as troop strength is drawn down and defense budgets shrink, the Army’s uniformed and civilian leadership said Monday.
“Over time, we’re going to have to decide what programs we think are the most important” on a range of existing initiatives from financial planning to PTSD awareness and off-base housing arrangements, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.
“These are the things that are going to be difficult,” Odierno said at a Military Family Forum of at Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention. “We’re going to have to decide what we need and what we don’t need.”
At an earlier news conference, both Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh said that family programs will get priority in their decisions on what to retain under budget cuts that are already underway and could be increased exponentially if Congress fails to reach a deal before the end of the year on sequestration.
“Whether it’s PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) issues or separation issues, we’ve got to make sure they’re adequately funded,” McHugh said.
The military faces a total of about $487 billion in cuts over 10 years under existing budgets. Without a deal on sequestration, an additional $500 billion in defense cuts would be added onto the $487 billion.
“It’s a salami-slice across the board” under sequestration, Odierno said. “We don’t know how deep the cuts are going to be,” which makes planning almost pointless.
With the threat of huge budget cuts coming, “we’ve got to look at everything we do and say is it cost effective,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of the Army Reserve.
Talley said one area in which the reserves could give better assistance to military families without boosting costs was on legal assistance to avoid having families pay for private lawyers. “I’ve got lawyers falling out of the sky” in the reserves, Talley said at the Military Family Forum.
The Army will have to become more efficient at picking programs that work as funding from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars dries up, said Thomas Lamont, the Army assistant secretary for manpower and Reserve affairs.
Funding for Army family programs more than doubled to a total of $1.3 billion from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2013, Lamont said. However, the added funding brought its own problem. Families often found it difficult to access or even find out about the expanding number of assistance programs, Lamont said.
“Many people were overwhelmed,” Lamont said. “We ended up overwhelming the people we were trying to help.”