There was an interesting article in last week's Washington Post concerning the unaffordability of the all-volunteer military. Some of what was written was not a surprise: the current retirement pay beginning at 50 percent for the rest of retired active duty service members lives as well as health care is under scrutiny or already changing. And as many of us know, the active duty retirement system is a pretty good deal.Which is one reason why this family still moves every two to three years.
How can retiree pay be a money sucking entity, you might ask, when 80 percent of the military never see a penny due to leaving the service before that golden 20 year retirement mark? Well, with 2.4 million retirees currently in the system, 1.4 million active duty, the need for health care and future benefits including those for dependents can indeed, and will be, a vacuum for the Benjamins.
All that considered, an interesting topic was brought up: Should benefits be equal for someone who has seen combat vs. someone who has only had an office or stable career in the military with no deployments?
Example: The Marine Corps Band (aka "The President's Own"). Most of the members, according to the article, never even attended boot camp. Members of this elite group of musicians are able to live in the D.C. area for pretty much their entire career if they choose. They are eligible to receive the same retiree benefits as someone who has seen at least one deployment. Retention comes into play as well. Not many guys in the band are punching their military meal-tickets early where other marine corps service members rarely stay in 20 years (little wonder why ... war takes a serious toll).
Rest easy, 'cause Washington is on the case. Defense Secretary Panetta called for the assembly of a nine member panel to discuss such things among themselves and give recommendations to congress and the president for modernizing the military retirement system.
But what I want to know are your opinions ... do you think there should be a system in place that takes into account the number of times a military member sees combat? Say, a 1-2 percent increase in retirement pay for someone who has deployed and a 1-2 percent decrease for those who have not. Or maybe all retiree pay in the future begins at 40 percent, with increases of 1-2 percent for each deployment. Or pay stays the same, but a decrease in health care benefits for everyone.
And what of those who want to deploy but keep getting left behind? In an era of troop withdrawals, some Brigades are leaving half their people back home as the rest head to the 'Stan. Since an individual servicemember is hardly in control of what Big Army decides will be his fate, is it fair to tie his retirement and his family's future sustainability to a decision on which he doesn't get the final say?
We can't come up with a three trillion-dollar coin to fund this, so be creative but also be practical. Instead, a penny for your thoughts -- what would you do? The only thing we cannot do is leave it the way it is -- at least for those currently in the process of entering the service.
What would you recommend to the panel?