Friday, January 30, 2015

smart ideas on military compensation reform

I have long been outraged that only one person in six who serves in uniform ever receives a pension for their service. Members of Congress are happy to keep adding benefits via the Pentagon for "veterans" without realizing how few people actually receive them.  I have also been disappointed, though not surprised, that the lobbyists for the lucky 17% fiercely oppose any effort to make military personnel pay even small additional copays now that their health care costs them only about 1/5 of what civilians pay for their health insurance.

The congressionally mandated commission on military compensation has now issued its report. And so far, at least, the interest groups have held their fire and members of Congress have said they'll study the proposals.

What they'll find is a balanced set of recommendations that saves some money [$31.8 billion over the next five years and ultimately $12.8 billion per year] but should still attract and retain enough qualified people.

-- Best of all, the commission recommends adding a 401(k) type program so that people serving fewer than a full 20 years will still get some retirement benefits. But it grandfathers all currently serving personnel so they can keep the current retirement system if they wish.

-- The commission also recommends a major overhaul of the Tricare health benefits program, turning it into something more like the Federal Employees Health Benefit system with a choice of plans and providers. To make the benefits more transparent [and, I hope, to reduce opposition] they create a new Basic Allowance for Health Care [BAHC] that can be spent on premiums and copays and other services.

-- The commission wisely recognized that military commissaries and exchanges really matter to service families and rejected the ritual Pentagon proposals for closing them or raising prices.

-- The remaining 12 recommendations are mostly family-friendly actions that should be done in any event.

But the big three mentioned above are an excellent starting point for worthwhile reforms that also save at least a little money. [If we get over this hurdle, then DOD and the services should revise their rigid personnel systems to allow for more flexibility, such as sabbaticals for civilian job experience and longer times in given ranks and at given posts.]

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