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Budget cutbacks shouldn’t target military, retirees

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The need to trim the military’s budget has been a hot topic in the news for much of the past year — and both lawmakers and Pentagon officials have acted to do just that.

But two recently enacted cuts are likely to negatively affect our soldiers, veterans and military retirees — and that just doesn’t seem right.

Thursday night, the Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill that funds the government through September and effectively avoids a government shutdown. The House passed the measure Wednesday. It includes almost $9 billion in unrequested money for overseas military and diplomatic operations to help ease Pentagon budget shortfalls.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is the bill includes a provision that trims pensions to working-age military retirees, starting in December 2015. The pension cut trims 1 percentage point off the annual cost-of-living increase for military retirees under the age of 62.

Disabled veterans and surviving military spouses were exempted from the pension cut, which is expected to save an estimated $6 billion over a 10-year period.

It’s true the provision doesn’t cut actual pensions; it merely reduces rate of increase, but it still results in money not received. Military groups estimate that the reduction could cost an E-7 about $83,000 by the time he or she qualifies for retirement with a pension.

Indeed, there can be no doubt that current and former military personnel and their families will feel the impact — and it’s likely to be significant over time.

Similarly, our local soldiers, retirees and their families will be negatively impacted by another budget-cutting measure announced last week — the planned closing of the Fort Hood Tricare office.

Beginning April 1, Tricare users will no longer have the opportunity to discuss their insurance coverage with a representative at the Tricare Service Center, just outside of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center on post. The service center is one of 189 such centers that will cease operations as part of a Pentagon initiative to save $250 million over the next five years.

A Pentagon spokesman told the Herald the change would not affect medical benefit or health care service, but it’s hard to see how that’s possible.

The Fort Hood Tricare office, operated by Humana Military, employs 10 people and serves about 3,000 visitors each month, on average, a Tricare spokesman said.

That means that as of April 1, about 100 people each day will no longer be able to discuss their Tricare insurance issues with a representative face-to-face.

The spokesman said most of the visits to the Fort Hood center involve in- and out-processing and enrollments, all of which will be available by phone as of April 1. General customer service, billing and claims inquiries also will be available by phone, the spokesman said.

That’s all well and good, but it must be acknowledged that dealing with a customer service representative by phone doesn’t always yield the same results as an in-person encounter.

The pension COLA reduction and Tricare office closures are vivid examples of how cutting budgets at the federal level affects people here at home.

Both Congress and Pentagon officials are to be commended for recognizing the need to reduce spending and save money where possible.

However, attempting to balance the budget on the backs of our military members, our veterans, our retirees and their families is not an acceptable path to follow.

Our service members put their lives on the line for this country, and their families have sacrificed greatly in support of their loved ones. Reducing pensions and eliminating in-person service for military insurance issues is hardly the way we should repay their efforts.

Our local congressmen, John Carter and Roger Williams, should lead the effort to restore the pension adjustments for our younger retirees at the earliest possible date. Similarly, Pentagon planners should try to find other areas to shave $250 million from the budget.

Our service members, our retirees and their families simply deserve better.

Contact Dave Miller at dmiller@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7543

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