Panetta, Dempsey Call on Lawmakers to Protect Military Personnel Accounts
WASHINGTON, June 13, 2012 – Calling service members key to U.S. national security, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey urged Senators to do right by them and their families.
The secretary and the chairman testified today before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee. Panetta told lawmakers military personnel are the linchpin to American defense strategy.
“For all the weapons we have, for all the technology we have, frankly, it’s the men and women in uniform that are the strongest weapon we have for the future,” the secretary said. “And so we want to sustain the family assistance programs, the programs for wounded warriors, the basic support programs for our troops and their families.”
Dempsey noted that the government needs to keep faith with service members who have kept faith with the country. “Keeping faith also means appropriate compensation for our troops,” he said. “This budget proposes modest reforms to military pay and benefits. However, it does not place the burden of budget cuts on the shoulders of our men and women in uniform. There are no freezes or reductions in pay. And there is no decrease in the quality of health care received by our active duty members and medically-retired wounded warriors.”
Still, both understand some cost cutting is inevitable and, in some cases, desired. “I’ve got to focus on some savings in the compensation area,” Panetta said. “This is an area that's grown by 90 percent, and frankly, we have got to be able to find some cost constraint in that area.”
The budget calls for military pay raises over the next two years, but for a limit in the out-years.
There needs to be some control on TRICARE health costs as well, he said, given that military health care costs currently run above $50 billion a year.
“We’ve also looked at the idea of a retirement commission to look at retirement provisions for the future,” the secretary said. “We’d like to grandfather, obviously, benefits for those that are presently in the force, but we do need to achieve savings in this area, as well, for the future.”
Dempsey as well told senators the Defense Department needs practical reform to deal with escalating personnel costs. “We must make our health care system more sustainable,” the chairman said. “Otherwise, we risk both the quality and the continuity of care. We can ensure its viability in ways that are fair and modest.”