Tom Philpott HEADLINES
Last November an independent audit of the Military Retirement Fund uncovered a “significant deficiency” in the way the Defense Finance and Accounting Service has been calculating retired pay for about 15 percent of 370,000 retirees who are under a “High-3” retired pay formula.
The House Armed Services Committee has ignored warnings from the Joint Chiefs, the secretary of defense and, this week, from the most influential defense think tanks in Washington by approving a fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill that does little to nothing to trim personnel costs.
In 2001, the year U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan, 983 veterans began to draw disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for sleep apnea, a disorder linked to obesity and characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep that can cause chronic drowsiness.
Even as defense budgets drop and the Joint Chiefs urge Congress to spread some of the fiscal pain across personnel accounts, the House armed services subcommittee on military personnel has said “No.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the furlough of 680,000 civilian employees for one day a week, from early July through September, to avoid taking deeper cuts in training and maintenance that could have degraded readiness to the point of threatening “core missions,” he said.
Base commissaries are facing turbulent times as staff vacancies swell under a federal hiring freeze, employee furloughs remain a worry, and the Defense Commissary Agency digests budget guidance for fiscal 2015 that will force new efficiencies on stores and, possibly, deeper cuts to store operations.
Military folks upset by Obama administration proposals to cap pay raises, to phase-in sharply higher co-pays on prescriptions filled off base and to raise Tricare costs on working-age retirees also tend to rail against such changes with arguments politicians can shrug off as stale or in error.
Rahm Emanuel, while serving as President Obama’s first chief of staff, once advised not to let a “crisis go to waste” because that’s when politicians will do things they otherwise wouldn’t.
Trying once more to get military compensation costs “under control,” the Obama administration has asked Congress to cap annual active duty and reserve component pay raises and to phase in over four years a complex formula for raising Tricare fees on retirees of all ages and their families.
With the backlog of compensa-tion claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs having ballooned in recent years, one would expect major veterans service organizations to be among the VA’s harshest critics.
Smoking-cessation drugs now are available at no charge through the Tricare Mail Order Program for service members, military family members and retirees younger than 65 who want to kick this unhealthy habit.
The Army, Air Force and Marine Corps will be forced to reopen their tuition assistance programs — and the Coast Guard likely will be pressured to follow — under a late-hour Senate amendment to a stopgap budget bill.
Here are some fresh developments that feuding politicians have created for the U.S. military in wartime:
The Joint Chiefs are breathing a bit easier after the House voted Wednesday to fund the government through September, and included a 2013 defense appropriations bill that would give the armed services more money and budget flexibility to ease the threat of a wartime readiness crisis.
The Obama administration pared back its plan to develop a single integrated electronic health record system for the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs because of shrinking defense budgets and rising costs.
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