As reported by Military.com, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey gave reporters a "preview" of the fiscal 2013 defense budget that will be sent to Congress next month, the first to reflect the bite of $487 billion in reduced budget growth over the next 10 years.
News around the 2013 budget has been mainly focused on the call for downsizing the military forces and equipment. However, there were also some references to pay and compensation that deserve some highlighting.
Military Pay Appears Safe (for Now): “Servicemembers will receive their full pay raises in fiscal 2013 and 2014,” Panetta said. "We will achieve some cost savings by providing more limited pay raises beginning in 2015," he added.
20-Year Military Retirement Plan Safe (for Now): Panetta will ask Congress to establish a "commission with the authority to conduct a comprehensive review of military retirement" -- with the understanding that current troops will be protected with a grandfather clause that keeps their existing benefits.
Military Retiree Health Care Changes: Panetta said troop health care and retirement are two huge issues that Washington can no longer avoid.
Panetta told reporters that “Health care is another important benefit, and one that has far outpaced inflation. Changes to health care will not affect active duty personnel or their families.” However, he added, "We decided that to help control growth of health care costs, we are recommending increases in health care [TRICARE] fees, co-pays and deductibles for retirees.” He added, "But let me be clear that even after these increases, the cost borne by military retirees will remain below the levels in comparable private-sector plans."
Military retirees fear losing their TRICARE benefit and most understand that something has to be done to reduce TRICARE’s impact on the federal budget. Last week MOAA reported that the DoD is looking for ways, other than increasing fees, to reduce the cost of military health care. Let's hope that public pressure can force DoD to find other ways to lighten the cost of TRICARE without increasing the cost "borne by military retirees."
As one report puts it, DoD's budget is expected to spark a battle royale among lawmakers, who may scramble to try to protect programs, bases and politically popular troop pay and benefits.
So it begins.