KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Sunday he is open to altering the military retirement system but would not want changes forced on current or former servicemembers.
A congressionally chartered Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission submitted proposals last month to lower personnel costs in the Defense Department. It recommended changes to entice troops to opt out of the current pension system, which gives substantial retirement pay to those who serve 20 years or more but none to those who serve less time. The panel suggested all troops be automatically given a savings plan account that would sock away 3 percent of pay along with a contribution from the military.
The panel also recommended that Tricare health insurance be replaced with a range of private provider options.
When a servicemember asked Carter about potential changes at a troop talk at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, Carter said: "I'm of course open to reconsidering the military retirement system. It's been around for a long time [and] it makes sense to take a look at it."
Saying he is studying the commission's report, he didn't comment on specific recommendations.
"What's critical here is that we have a system ... that will keep the all-volunteer force healthy in the future," he said.
He said the retirement system should be attractive to potential recruits and give servicemembers appropriate incentives to either stay in the military or retire at a time that is best for them and DoD.
"That's the criterion that I will principally apply when considering these things," Carter said.
But he believes any mandated changes should only apply to those who join the military in the future.
"Any change we make [should] be one that those who are in service don't have to [accept] if they don't want to, because I don't want to breach our understanding with you at the time you joined. That's not fair," Carter said. "But we can make other alternatives available to those who may join in the future and also to those who are in now."
During the talk with the troops, Carter was also asked about the prospect of transgender people serving in austere environments like Kandahar. The military has a ban on them serving openly, citing medical reasons. Some transgender rights activities question whether a legitimate medical reason exists for such a policy.
Carter did not say whether he thought the exclusion should be lifted or whether a review is called for but said he was open-minded about transgender people.
"I come at this kind of question from a fundamental starting point, which is that we want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country," Carter said.
"I'm very open-minded ... about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That's the important criteria: Are they going to be excellent servicemembers? And I don't think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them."