Under debt deal, military pay, veterans programs in play for cuts

Officers and veterans groups are concerned nothing -- including health care and education benefits -- will be immune from the belt tightening.

Military pay raises, funding for veterans health care and the Post-9/11 GI Bill could be sacrificed to new fiscal realities as the result of the deal signed by President Obama on Tuesday to raise the federal debt ceiling, according to the Military Officers Association and veterans groups. The law requires the federal budget be cut $2.1 trillion over 10 years.

The White House said it plans to cut $350 billion from the Defense Department budget (excluding war funding) over the next decade. Retired Air Force Col. Michael Hayden, the association's deputy director for government relations, said this means "everything is on the table," including military pay.

While Congress historically has been reluctant to freeze military pay, the 2011 Budget Control Act signed by Obama on Tuesday makes it clear upfront that military pay is no longer off-limits in budget discussions. If the administration and Congress fail to make the required reductions then across-the-board cuts in discretionary funding will be triggered through a procedure known as sequestration. The law gives the president "authority to exempt any [military] personnel account from sequestration" but only if "savings are achieved through across-the-board reductions in the remainder of the Department of Defense budget," states a House Rules Committee analysis of the bill.

Hayden said, "this leaves pay raises up for grabs" as Defense crafts a new budget to meet cuts planned by the White House. He also expressed concern that cost-of-living increases for military retirees could end up sacrificed in the Pentagon budget-cutting process, although by law they are protected from sequestration.

Retired Air Force Col. Philip Odom, another deputy director for government relations at the Military Officers Association, said troops could face a pay freeze coming on the heels of a small 1.6 percent pay raise in the 2012 budget, the "second lowest increase since 1962."

Keith Weller, a spokesman for the Reserve Officers Association, expressed concern that the "super committee" Congress must establish to determine the budget cuts will use the new strict budget caps to increase fees for the TRICARE health insurance program for active-duty and retired military personnel.

"We don't want them to view TRICARE as a cash cow," Weller said. In January, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called for a "modest" increase in TRICARE premiums, which have been frozen at $460 a year for the past 15 years, compared to $5,000 a year other federal workers pay for health insurance.

Gates said Defense heath care costs have spiraled to $50 billion a year from $19 billion a year over the past decade, with the 10 million TRICARE beneficiaries accounting for much of that increase.

The budget control law lumps the discretionary budgets for the Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments, along with the National Nuclear Security Administration, the intelligence community management account and portions of the State Department budget, in a new "security" category capped at $684 billion in fiscal 2012. This marks a 6 percent, or $44 billion, cut for those entities, according to an analysis by the Heritage Foundation.

If these departments and agencies do not adhere to the budget caps then they would lose funds through the sequestration process spread evenly across their budgets, but with no clear delineation in how and where cuts would be made, the analysis concluded.

Carl Blake, legislative director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said he has real concerns about the effect the law will have on veterans' health care.

Veterans Affairs Department pension and disability programs are fenced off from cuts or sequestration, Blake said, but not the massive 247,000 employee Veterans Health Administration, which is expected to care for 6.2 million patients in 2012. Blake said VHA operates under discretionary funding, which makes it a target for cuts.

Government Executive learned that John Carson, director of the White House office of public engagement, met with veterans groups, including the America Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Wounded Warrior Project, to assure them that veterans compensation programs will be safe from sequestration.

But Joseph Chenelly, assistant national communications director for the Disabled American Veterans, said Carson did not address whether VHA or the Post-9/11GI Bill would be safe from cuts. Joseph Violante, legislative director for the group, said that despite the White House statements, "nothing reassures me that veterans programs are safe from cuts."

Ed Meagher, vice president for health care strategy at Computer Sciences Corp. and a former VA deputy chief information officer, said he doubted VA's requested $3 billion for information technology spending in 2012 will take much of a hit as the department counts on IT to save money through automation of manual processes, including the disability claims system. "At most, the IT budget might get nicked for $100 million," Meagher said.

He agreed that VHA funding faces cuts under the budget control act, and predicted those would come from new mental health projects, a number of which have been adopted to care for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. New projects, Meagher said, are easier to cut than established ones.

VA requested $6.1 billion for mental health care in its 2012 budget and $6.4 billion in its 2013 budget, both which account just under 15 percent of the overall health care budget of $46 billion in each of those years. Nextgov reported in March that more than half the Afghanistan and Iraq veterans treated by VA last year received care for mental health problems, roughly four times the rate of the general population.

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that the nation faces a $1 trillion long-term bill to care for veterans of those wars and warned against slashing program funding "in a shortsighted rush."

VA requested $11.1 billion for the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2012, up $2.1 billion from 2011, with more than 260,000 veterans enrolled in the college year that just ended.

Michael Dakduk, executive director of the Student Veterans of America, said he is worried that budget hawks will flail the program.

Dakduk, a Marine veteran who served tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq, said that Congress supports projects like the GI Bill when the memories of war are fresh, but when those fade, attention shifts from caring for veterans to balancing the budget.

Hayden predicted an intense round of lobbying as various groups work to protect their piece of a smaller pie. But, he said, the stark reality is "everyone will have to suffer a little bit."

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.