An Issue of Betrayal

I‘ve neither met Tom Philpott nor read his book Glory Denied, but I like him for what he says and what he writes. According to his bio, Tom is a veteran of the U.S Coast Guard. He also spent 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company. He launched his own syndicated news column, “Military Update” in 1994. I make it a point to read his column on a regular basis. Tom has his finger on the pulse of all things related to military people and the issues directly affecting these people and their families. In my humble opinion, he is a true friend of active duty military personnel, retirees, reservists and guardsmen. He has their best interests at heart.

In his most recent piece (Read it here), Tom outlines the latest Defense Department effort to cut healthcare costs on the collective back of more than 168,000 men and women who served this Nation honorably for an entire career. That’s the number of retired military veterans who may be forced to either give up their “guaranteed” healthcare benefits, or be forced to pay considerably more for the same or lesser coverage. Why don’t we hear any protest from the Congressmen and Senators who make such a business of “supporting the troops”? The silence — from both sides of the aisle — is both deafening and revealing. Politicians’ silence is an unconscionable affront to American military veterans and their families.

These people use TRICARE “Prime” as their primary source of health insurance. TRICARE, a program administered by the Defense Department and contracted to health care providers such as Humana, TriWest, and Health Net, has its roots in the Clinton administration. In 1996, in what can only be described as Act I of the betrayal of career military people, the DoD began charging military retirees premiums for the privilege of using what was always a benefit provided at no cost. The benefit was part of a retirement package promised to personnel in return for a career — 20 years or more — of service to the Nation. So much for promises. The premiums haven’t changed since the program was enacted, but Act II of the betrayal is now in full swing.

In January of this year, Rep Chet Edwards (D-TX), introduced H.R. 579, the “Military Retirees Healthcare Protection Act.” This proposed legislation, co-sponsored by no less than 178 members of the House, ostensibly prohibits the Department of Defense from raising premiums on military retirees. It has widespread bipartisan support. The resolution “expresses the sense of Congress that: (1) the Department of Defense (DOD) and the nation have a committed health benefits obligation to retired military personnel that exceeds the obligation of corporate employers to civilian employees; and (2) DOD has many additional options to constrain the growth of health care spending in ways that do not disadvantage beneficiaries, and should pursue such options rather than seeking large fee increases for beneficiaries.”

Apparently, the Department of Defense solution is to eliminate as many “Prime Service Areas” as possible in an attempt to cut costs. The betrayal of our best and bravest continues.

How, in good conscience, can Congress allow this to happen? How can the 535 members, always asking for our support, simply ignore the needs of 168,000 career military veterans and their families? These people earned this benefit through a career of sacrifice and service to our Country. Can Congress ignore this, after approving government provided healthcare for families earning upward of $80,000 annually? In the words of George Canning, “When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep? It appears that “gratitude,” at least to our career military veterans, is falling deeper and deeper into dreamland.

What can be done to stem the tide of this continuing betrayal of our retired military veterans? I have a suggestion. Perhaps one of our conservative candidates for the White House would be interested in the support of 168,000 patriotic Americans and their families. That number will most certainly rise when one considers the numerous veterans’ organizations likely to flock en masse to a candidate truly committed to the welfare of these group members. It’s not a stretch to say the number of supporters could easily reach into the millions — a considerable number by any standard. I only hope one of our candidates recognizes that and takes the issue to its proper conclusion. Anything less is simply unjust and unfair to those who served so faithfully.

It’s time for the Defense Department to explore other avenues in its cost-cutting efforts. Gouging those who served so long and ask so little is nothing short of despicable. They deserve far better.

Thomas Jefferson once said “My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!” The Department of Defense, our legislators, and our Presidential candidates would do well to remember that our retired military veterans are largely responsible for many of the precious blessing we currently enjoy. Its high time we started acting like we recognize that fact.


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