Defense Secretary Gates has called service members the "military's greatest strategic asset," and the President and First Lady’s Initiatives to support military families have had an impact on the proposed DoD Budget for 2012. No longer screaming for large medical fee increases for those who serve/have served, the budget includes $8.3 Billion for family support for all the services. The community that has sacrificed so much during two wars, while most Americans continued ordinary lives, should not be the target of budget cuts for their programs. We recognize that our country is in the midst of economic instability but too often the military budget is the first target of the axe! With military requirements being priority, support programs for the community are often cut within the department. In these times of war and sacrifice by the military community, Congress needs to look somewhere else!
I met with Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Department of Defense, Robert F Hale, to discuss the DoD 2012 Budget Proposal during a DoD Bloggers Roundtable this morning. Mr. Hale described some of the budget changes and updates and I asked him what military families had to cheer about in this budget. He went on to describe several areas that should be very encouraging for military families.
Critical for the health of our military and their home life is the manpower increase of 65,000 over 2007 to help services meet the goal of one year deployed and two years at home. The DoD leadership recognizes how critical this time at home is for our service members and their families. I recently saw a Facebook comment from a friend who complained that her son missed his daddy who was stuck at work during a snowstorm for one day. I really fought not to respond with something about our military families but realized they might not understand and could be offended. Too many of our “military brats” are growing up without mom or dad’s presence due to multiple deployments. Funding a larger force through the end of the conflicts is critical to these families.
Also important to the well being of the military family is a small increase in the budget for food and housing. The budget provides for the basic allowance for housing to rise 4.2 percent and the basic allowance for subsistence by 3.4 percent. These increases improve the monthly budget picture for military families that are frequently stretched by long distance to family, communication systems such as computers/phones and childcare that are critical support during deployments.
The military health care system will have a $52.5 billion budget to support our heroes, their families and a retiree population that continues to serve in many ways. Past attacks from this Secretary on the retiree benefits seem to have finally become politically untenable. Forgetting the promises made and sacrifices our retirees and families made, the calls for large fee increases for Tricare medical coverage of the past few years have been muted. Tricare Prime will have a small monthly fee increase of $5 for a family which seems reasonable based on past history as long as it is not intended as a “get our foot in the door” type of maneuver to increase fees at a much higher rate during later budget drills. Changes to pharmacy rules will drive more folks to the mail order pharmacy contracted by DoD and save costs which I have no argument with! If we can be thrifty and save $ without putting it on the back of the military family please go for it! Sometimes “efficiencies” are really nothing more than reduced services so I hope this is not the case for our medical system.
According to their press release before the budget announcement yesterday, “Defense leaders understand that military families also serve the country, officials said, noting that Gates has vowed to protect military families from the budgetary ax.” Funding for military families support programs will not be reduced as the budget decreases during the end of combat operations and troop reductions to follow. Support for child care spaces (200,000), schools, morale, welfare and recreation programs and family support centers are included in the budget. The schools will receive $500 M to replace or modernize DoD schools at 6 stateside locations and 9 overseas.
As we closed the discussion with the Under Secretary, he asked us to implore Congress to act on this years DoD budget request. We were talking about 2012 but he asked for help in 2011 which is still operating on a continuing resolution which means funds are targeted at 2010 levels (prior to the deployment of 30,000 additional forces to Afghanistan for example) and are not going to meet the needs of our forces. This is unconscionable for our elected leaders. We expect Congressional and Executive leadership to step forward to ensure our service members have the best resources possible while fighting this country’s wars.
If you would like to read a transcript of this Roundtable or listen to an audio, please go to DoD Live. If you would like to read additional Roundtable discussions from Col K please go to Our Letters to You from MilitaryAvenue.com! Thank you Secretary Hale for taking the time to meet this morning!
Photo Credits: A 5 year old military child, grips the hand of her father, a U.S. Marine, following his return to Marine Corps Base Hawaii from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan, Dec. 7, 2010. The Marine is a battalion gunner, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, which provided support as part of counterinsurgency operations during Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Reece E. Lodder
Photo Credits: The Honorable Robert F. Hale, Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Department of Defense