Expenses for military could plunder budget

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At the risk of being labeled unpatriotic, people need to review efforts to get the military budget under control.

Every time a reduction in weapons or military bases is proposed — even when the Pentagon has stated it doesn’t want the plane/ship/gun or base — you can count on members of Congress to pontificate on how we will be defenseless. Translation: These weapons are built or bases are located in my district and I want to keep the cash flowing home.

It isn’t just weapons and bases that have gotten out of control. Personnel costs have skyrocketed.

We agree our troops deserve fair compensation and we salute their sacrifices when they have put themselves in harm’s way for our nation. But that doesn’t mean there should be a blank check.

The compensation should be attractive enough to keep people interested in the armed forces while still being affordable and sustainable.

According to officials and military analysts, the current compensation is well above the civilian sector when comparing people with similar education and experience.

An Army private with fewer than two years of service and no dependents earns on average about $40,000, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman, in a story by The Associated Press. This includes housing and food allowances. No taxes are paid on the two allowances. An Army captain with six years of service and no dependents averages $93,000.

Active duty military members, their spouses and children also get free health care at military treatment facilities. If dependents use a private doctor, dentist or pharmacy, they get the care through the department’s TRICARE system and pay no premiums or co-pays, a system spokesman told the AP.

Other benefits include help paying for continuing education, discounted day care, commissaries where they can buy food at an estimated 30 percent below retail and exchanges where they buy other deeply discounted goods.

Those who have served 20 years can draw a pension worth half their base salary immediately on retirement rather than having to wait until their 60s. The payments are for life and will grow with cost-of-living. This exceeds any pension in the private sector.

In addition, he or she can get free health care at military facilities and can continue to use commissaries. If the person enrolls in the TRICARE insurance for private sector care he or she would pay only $274 a year for an individual or $548 a year for a family.

The retirement system was designed when people didn’t live as long, second careers were rare and military pay was low. With today’s life expectancies, a person could serve 20 years and draw a pension for 40 or more years.

The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission has been ordered to review pay, health care, the promotion system, retirement pay and family-support programs. Let’s hope it can pull the trigger on some ideas that will be fair to the troops while keeping the costs — and our taxes — under control.

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