Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the impact on recruitment and retention would be a major consideration for him in dealing with proposals for reforming the pay and benefits system.
Thornberry said he was concerned to hear that four out of five service members who spoke last week to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the secretary that they were leaving the military because of poor pay and benefits.
"It disturbs me" to hear troops express those reasons for ending their military careers, Thornberry said at a roundtable meeting with reporters.
Thornberry said recruitment and retention would be on his mind when the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission issues its final report and recommendations, which are scheduled to be released Thursday.
"It is so important – the incentives we put in place," including pay and benefits to fill the ranks and retain skilled service members, Thornberry said. "We have an obligation to really understand the consequences of the proposals" from the commission, he said.
Thornberry said he would be relying upon Rep. Joe Heck, chairman of the HASC subcommittee on personnel, to delve into the details of the commission's recommendations on pay and benefits.
Thornberry also stressed that the committee members would take their time in reviewing the recommendations and coming up with their own proposals.
"We don't want to rush into it," he said. "We don't want to go into it with the attitude – where do we cut the money."
Both Thornberry and Heck have previously stated that they would favor "grandfathering" retirement benefits for those currently serving.
When asked whether he could support any pay and benefits reductions for those currently serving, Thornberry was non-committal.
"I want to see what they say," Thornberry said of the commission's upcoming recommendations.
Earlier this month, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, took the opposite position, saying he was open to possible changes in pay and benefits.
"I can probably support a number of changes that need to be made," McCain said without giving specifics. He singled out the military health care system, which he said "has to be reformed."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org