U.S. Army Soldiers participate in rappel training during the Mountain Phase of the Ranger Course on Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Ga., July 12, 2015.

U.S. Army Soldiers participate in rappel training during the Mountain Phase of the Ranger Course on Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Ga., July 12, 2015. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Yvette

Give Troops The Pay and Benefits They Deserve

The Senate is all that stands between troops and the pay and benefits they actually deserve. Military families have done enough and the future force is at stake.

At a time when the United States is conducting dangerous operations across the globe, it is incredibly disappointing to see President Barack Obama’s administration and key defense lawmakers champion the degradation of pay and benefits to the one weapon that has never let us down: our men and women in uniform.

Equally disheartening, the president recently told Congress he intends to cap the military pay raise a full percentage point below inflation. When will this erosion of pay for the all-volunteer force stop?

The Military Officers Association of America, or MOAA, holds out hope those in Congress will make the right decision to support the troops during the upcoming defense bill debate.

MOAA is not oblivious to the burden sequestration has forced on defense planners. Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said the Army would be unable to fulfill its mission if sequestration continues.

The declining morale in the force is real. Last year, troops reported lower overall job satisfaction and declining interest in reenlistment last year. In February, the services’ top enlisted gave Congress the same warning.

Look at the situation from the troops’ perspective: frequent and dangerous long deployments; lower pay; higher costs for food, housing, and health care; not to mention the uncertainty of getting a pink slip downrange – or worse. Is this the kind of environment you’d want to work and live in or have your spouse exposed to?

Unless the House’s position prevails in the ongoing conference with the Senate, military families will face a third straight year of pay caps. The last five pay raises have been the smallest in the history of the all-volunteer force. Add to that another year of depressed housing allowances, higher prices at on-base stores due to hundreds of millions of dollars being slashed from the commissary budget, and proposals to make retirees pay more for health care.

Military families have done their part with selfless service and sacrifice over a decade-plus of combat operations. They remain resilient, but with continued calls to erode pay and benefits, cracks are starting to show. For only the third time in 20 years, the Army may fall short of its recruitment numbers, USA Today reported.

Retirees have also shared in the sacrifice. Since 2011, beneficiaries have seen TRICARE Prime enrollment fees increase by 23 percent (2011 and 2015 figures), double the rate of inflation over the same period. Over the same time span, TRICARE beneficiaries’’ retail pharmacy copays have risen by a whopping 145 percent.

Pitting readiness against personnel is a false choice and a breach of faith. Anyone who has conducted a foot patrol on the streets of Iraq or dealt with tribal leaders in Afghanistan can tell you once trust is breached, you lose the hearts and minds of those around you.

The solution is simple: Congress needs to support both readiness and the people programs necessary to sustain the force. It is not a case of one or the other.

At a time when voices across America say that sustaining our armed forces is Job One, Senate lawmakers remain the main obstacle to passing a commonsense defense budget that protects both the nation and the men and women who serve to protect it. The administration’s and Senate’s ill-advised stance on total military compensation threatens to undermine the future of the all-volunteer force.

The military community wants to be part of the solution, and it has been – but when is enough, enough?