Pay, Benefit Cutbacks Hurting Troop Morale

March 4, 2016

The Senior Enlisted Advisors for each of the military services testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies on quality of life issues. Topics at the hearing ranged from single-sailor housing to suicide prevention and spouse employment.

Other prominent topics included erosion of compensation benefits, such as pay raises and housing allowances, certification and licensure for servicemembers transitioning, the new retirement system, and health care.

Of particular concern was the erosion of pay and benefits over past and forthcoming years. “Fiscal conservation is our duty as leaders in public service, but it's hard to explain program and compensation cuts to a young solider and his or her family,” said Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. “Whether actual or perceived, these things affect how they view our decisions.”

The other advisors on the panel echoed the sentiment: the mere discussion of cuts shakes the morale of the force and their trust in leadership.

2016 is the second year of a five-year plan to reduce housing allowances, and the FY 2017 budget proposes capping the military pay raise below the average American's for the fourth year in a row. Discussions over reform to the commissary and health care could increase other current and future out of pocket expenses.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said, “If the Budget Control Act is not repealed and current trends continue, our projections show that compensation for an average E-5 with dependents stationed in or near (sic) Washington, D.C. will fall behind private sector pay in 2018 and behind increases in household expenses in 2021.”

All of the witnesses echoed his concerns.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green voiced worry over upcoming changes to the retirement plan and the ability of Marines to make the right choice when the plan becomes active on Jan. 1, 2018. “Most of them will have a choice, either one system or the other…we're pedaling away trying to get that information out there, but it's very important…and that ship will take a long time to turn if we get it wrong,” he said.

Witnesses also discussed health care reform, acknowledging that while care in military treatment facilities is good, access can be difficult for families. Previous surveys by MOAA on beneficiary access say the same thing.

As the committee has jurisdiction for military and veteran appropriations, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Chairman Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) emphasized a need for better DoD and VA integration in health care delivery.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens touched on the risks in health care reform. He said, “It's important that as we…look at ways to save monies and reduce costs of military medicine that we don't overreach and start counting too much on the civilian sector both inside the states and really outside the states…because it can impact readiness without really knowing about it until it's too late.”

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