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Video: The Scoop on MilFam Funding

It’s no secret that funding for our favorite base recreation programs could soon be on the chopping block as Congress looks for ways to cut back on overall federal spending. Rep. Rob Wittman, a Republican from Virginia and member of the House Armed Services Committee, spoke about funding issues late last month at the Military Bloggers Conference in D.C. We caught up with him there to get the scoop on whether he thinks benefit and family support funding is really at jeopardy. Watch the video or read the transcript below.

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Video transcription (or, I watch it so you don't have to!):

Amy Bushatz: In the last session here at the military bloggers conference you mentioned that we’re facing a ‘resource challenged era.’ Im wondering if you can give us a preview of how those resource challenges are going to affect military family spending and benefit spending as well.

Rep. Rob Wittman: Well, many of us there feel very strongly that we need to stand by the benefits that are provided to our military families. That’s one of the commitments that is critical to our obligation to men and women in uniform and to their families. But we have to make tough decision about budgets and where the resources go, and to me you create priorities -- and priorities need to be to make sure that we stand by those obligations with our military families.

If changes are necessary I think what you have to do is say: if you’re going to make a change, then changes need to be made for those folks that are coming into the military, preserving those benefits for those that are there. And, as you know, the Pentagon has had some conversations back and forth about changing those benefits, possibly changing compensation, whether its cost of living increases, those sorts of things, retirements length, those issues.

I think this: when men and women come and signs up in our military, and they sign up under certain understanding about the benefits that they will receive, the salaries that they will receive, we owe it to them to stand by them. If we don’t I think what you see down the road I think what we’ll see is issues that come up with retention. Because somebody comes in and says ‘you know this is what you said you were going to provide me now its changing, why should I provide that commitment to you if you aren’t going to provide a commitment back to me?’ And this really is a business about commitment -- the commitment the men and women make to this nation. We owe it to them to make sure we stand by the commitment we made to them about the benefits they are are going to receive.

If there’s going to be changes, and there may need to be changes -- if there are then we need to be upfront with people as they come into the military to say ‘by the way, the benefits that you’ll receive coming into the military will be this’ and then stand by that. And that, I think, is critical for us going forward.

So, in the budget deliberations from my perspective that’s the element that needs to be preserved as decisions as made.

AB: What about, in the short term, for family program spending such as the morale welfare recreation [MWR] programs and those other things that as spouses we rely on on a very basic day to day basis? Taking our kids to the free play areas, or recreation centers or the gyms -- what about the spending for those sort of things? Can you pledge that that is going to be preserved or is that something you’re going to give funding cuts to?

RW: Well there’s discussion back and forth about how to continue to fund those or can you take revenue from other sources and put it into those areas. I think those programs are critical, especially as our loved ones are serving downrange, and helping support families back home.

There’s a variety of challenges that families face, especially when we have these high ops-tempo environments that our men and women are being deployed to, short dwell times. If we’re not doing everything we can to support families, then we’re not doing the right thing. As the old saying goes you recruits Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors, but you retain families. And we know that MWR is critical to making sure that we keep in mind supporting our families. So, from my perspective, we need to make sure that if they’re resource challenges there for those programs, let’s find ways to make sure that we can get the funding to them.

And I have no problem with thinking outside the box -- but if we don’t have those support facilities and programs for our families, then it makes it much much more difficult I think to convince families to say our loved one who is now serving and continues to serve, because it now fits with being able to support the family while they’re serving down range.

AB: I know no military spouse would say ‘family programs over safety issues.’ But are family programs more important to fund than the newest cool guy weapons system?

RW: Well those are questions were going to have to ask. There’s been a lot of effort to look at weapons system, the cost of those systems, the delivery time of those systems, the function of those systems.

And that’s why, when I spoke in here about looking at the strategic needs of this nations, it’s critical that we ask those tough questions. What do we have to defend this nation against? What military hardware do we need to achieve that and with what we need, how do we purchase that in the most efficient way possible? I think we can do a better job on the purchasing side, on the acquisition side. Those savings need to go to the human resource side of things, which is critical.

It’s great to have the most modern weapons systems, but you know there’s human beings that are the base of our forces. And if we don’t do a good job with human resources issues, and I don’t care what kind of fancy weapons system we have, our military wont be able to do the things that it needs to do.

And people will look at it and go ‘you know why aren’t you supporting our men and women in uniform?’ That’s the critical element. So when decisions are made we gotta do the best job we can at expending dollars on those systems, but look very carefully at the need -- does that meet this nations strategic requirements and if it doesn’t than what do we do to redirect dollars to systems and people to make us more able to attain those strategic objectives that are put out there for this nation?

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