Perhaps the most surprising commentary to be found in American newspapers yesterday was written for The Washington Post by Tom Slear, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U. S. Army.
His message: His military benefits are too generous.
Slear, a freelance writer who retired from the Army in 2001, makes it clear the situation he criticizes has absolutely nothing to do with the distressing imbroglio over the Veterans Administration and its many weaknesses.
“Though I spent more than five years on active duty during the 1970s as an Army infantry officer and an additional 23 years in the Reserves, I never fired a weapon other than in training, and I spent no time in a combat zone,” his essay begins. “I returned to active duty for five months in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, but I was assigned to the Pentagon. My hazardous duty consisted of a daily drive on New York Avenue before its upgrade.”
In short, he wasn’t really in harm’s way, and yet his benefits were calculated on the premise that he was among those who daily put their lives at risk in the service of their nation.
“I am hardly unique,” he explains. “Despite the extended operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly half of the 4.5 million active-duty service members and reservists over the past decade were never deployed overseas. Among those who were, many never experienced combat.”
He expresses respect for all those who served, regardless of their lack of exposure to the kind of threat we typically associate with the battle-hardened troops on the front lines. But he would ask his readers to realize that not everyone in uniform is in such jeopardy.
“For every soldier, Marine, sailor or airman whose job is to engage the enemy, there are three or more service members in a well-guarded, reasonably comfortable bivouac area ensuring that the troops are fed, resupplied, paid, entertained and attended to medically,” he reminds us.
“These jobs are important,” Slear concedes. “Battles are won based on logistics just as much as tactics. But these support jobs aren’t particularly hazardous.”
However, despite the low risk levels, he says the government’s benefits (paid for by taxpayers) “flow lavishly.”
“While on active duty, I received medical care without any premiums or co-pays, a substantial housing allowance, a small stipend for food, and a base salary that by today’s pay scale would be $5,168 a month,” he notes. “Once I joined the Reserves, I started out receiving what today would be $11,000 annually for two days of drill per month and 13 days of active duty per year. That increased to $17,600 when I retired in 2001.”
He concludes that “Simply put, I’m getting more than I gave.”
(Coincidentally, that’s also the case with several states whose politicians are the most vigorous critics of federal government spending.)
Slear points out that the federal budget agreement last year included a 1 percent reduction in the cost-of-living increase in military retirement pay for those under 62. That decision prompted protests from the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Military Officers Association of America.
The federal government was accused of “breaking the faith.”
“Oh, please,” he comments. “One percent on a non-contributing pension while the retirees are still in their productive working years? That’s not breaking faith. It would be a judicious concession to the expanding federal deficit and would go largely unnoticed by recipients.”
Slear’s views may anger many, particularly in the American military establishment, but ordinary taxpayers should give his argument careful thought.
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