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Friday, June 22, 2007

Wow does time fly...

I've been busy implementing my high school reunion, our 25th year since graudating, thank you very much. I didn't realize so much time has passed since my last post and I'm feeling remiss in doing so...

Here lately, my cause of late has been congress, and subsequently Senate, passing legislation, as part of the 2007 Defense Appropriations Bill, requiring employers offering a TriCare Supplemental Insurance to either add a civilian equivalent or to not offer any supplemental insurance at all.

I can see the reasoning behind it, to be sure, but my husband's employer has been looking for way so screw over their employees for some time now. A couple months ago, my husband was called into what they in the business call a "Commander's Call", which is military terminology for an all-call meeting that employees "can" attend to find out what's going on with the company. Since military contractors notoriously hire former or retired military personnel, military lingo tends to bleed into the daily life there. But I digress...

Anyway, a couple months ago, there was a meeting to inform my husband's division that it was changing divisions AGAIN and here's the new president of our division. For the next half-hour, the room is inundated with an expensive powerpoint presentation showing them how wonderful things are with this particular defense contractor and they are now seeing profits in the billions. ("That's right folks, " sayeth the new leader, "I said Billions with a B."). After this presentation is done, they are all given a large coin embossed with the catch phrase of the month, "I'm in!" Immediately following this wonderful, expensive, life-affirming event, the new president of the division makes the announcement to all employees that due to the expensive nature of the yearly bonus program, something that has been in place for years and is called "profit-sharing" is being cancelled. The grand leader also goes on to say that they prefer people gain self-actualization via promotions which will require them to become mobile (read: either you have to move or you have to take a job that requires a huge amount of travel).


Oh, yeah, it's only the lower-level employees losing their yearly bonus. Management kept theirs and their based on the performance of their lower level employees. Also, my husband's supervisor is too lazy to figure pay raises based on performance evaluations done yearly so everyone gets the same 3.5% whether they are doing a great job or are sleeping the entire time they're within the confines of the building in which they work, thereby insuring people aren't going to work very hard, knowing their efforts to do a good job are for naught. Huh, wonder what that's about...

Anyway, back to TriCare. See, the Department of Defense (DOD) has been looking for ways to cut spending. I say DOD but really it's Congress. Last year, a bill was introduced in Congress to create a payment structure for TriCare used by Retirees that was based on rank when retired. If you retired an E-1, then you paid X number of dollars, if you retired an E-9, you paid more exponentially, if you retired an officer, you paid even more. (For a comprehensive grid explaining this change, see Proposed Changes to TRICARE) Also, this bill wanted to add a pay structure for the use of TriCare Standard, currently free to Retirees. This bill didn't fly and it was defeated due to the outpouring of complaints by retirees to and via their congressional representatives. The DOD tried to have this little nugget included as part of the 2007 budget proposal citing rising costs to maintain healthcare for military retirees. The DOD fought long and hard to get this implemented and it's defended in several online articles (see:TRICARE Proposes New '07 Fees For Retirees). However, the many groups representing the interests of the retiree's jumped to the defense of the people they represent and the Air Force Memorial magazine had an article regarding this arbitrary adding of fees to a service that has been provided for free for decades. (see: TriCare Fee Plan Blasted) This article explains the matter clearly, easily for everyone to understand. Another point of reference, taking the side of the retirees, is another good article, a link provided from the aforementioned article, Faith No More?, an editorial published in the April, 2006 Air Force Association magazine. This particular article is interesting in that it gives an apt correlation between spending and financial obligations:

Paying for retiree care is not a favor, but an obligation. It is unfortunate that costs have turned out to be so high, but that is not the fault of retirees. What if someone bought a car and then his gas, insurance, and repairs became more expensive than he expected? Isn’t he, nevertheless, obligated to pay all of his bills?

As a military daughter, one who benefited from the usage of the military healthcare system BEFORE the 1990's (when things seemed to go downhill) and now as a military wife, who has watched the military retiree system erode over the last ten years, I can say, with a tremendous amount of certainty, that if Congress had its way, there would be no benefits whatsoever for military retirees.

For a civilian reading this, I'm sure their first thought is, "So what?" Here's my answer to that:

My mother married my father in 1946, AFTER he ended his time in service as a member of a tank batt in WWII. He didn't get to graduate high school because he was drafted before he could finish. However, the state of the country being what it was, my father went back into the military in 1947 as part if the Air Force, now branched from the Army and its own entity. My father passed away in 2001 at the age of 76 to a cancer he seems to have obtained as a result of his military service and being exposed to megatons of radiation in Operation Plumb Bob, a nuclear test performed in the Nevada desert and only made public AFTER my father died from small-cell lung cancer. (For more information on Operation Plumb Bob)

In the time my mother was married to my father, he also had the pleasure (?) of being sent to Korea for their little disagreement and he spent three years of his military service going in and out of Vietnam as part of a fighter squadron out of Alexandria, LA. See, they were never officially stationed there so the Air Force could keep them there as long as they wanted. The unit my dad was part of had so many losses of life due to this, with three of the four squadrons being in Vietnam at any given time, a chaplain was sent to speak to congress about it, begging them to use another unit for a while, to give them a chance to recover from all the death they had been exposed to.

As a member of the military, sacrifices are made on an almost daily basis, not just by the military member but by the family as well. When my husband was active, I was one of the lucky ones and he was home most of the time, but there were wives (and husbands too, let's not forget the husbands of active duty) who didn't see their spouses for weeks, months at a time. Military spouses raise their children alone much of the time because of their military member being gone. I can't recall how many times my husband was called out of bed in the middle of the night to go to work for some mission readiness thing.

And here's the rub, my husband and my father did it for less pay than the kids today are doing it for. My dad was making around $100 a month when he was active. Whenever there would be a commander's call (now attended by the spouses since their husbands were off at war) they would complain about the low pay. According to my mother, the answer was always the same, "But remember your benefits!" I look at what we're getting now and the first thing that comes to mind is, "What benefits?"

It is my sincere wish that the military retirees would stop accepting the status quo, would stop letting someone else do the fighting, would stand up and write or call their congressional representatives whenever something like this comes up. It is only through the voices of many that we can protect the rights of us all.

The Federal Government is failing to provide for a group of people who at one time were entrusted to protect the nation as a whole, taking an oath of enlistment stating "...that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States..."

Trust me when I tell you this, there isn't a single member of the United States Military who takes this lightly. This, to most military members, is the single most reason they do what they do, defend the Constitution of the United States, and it's a pretty heady feeling to say you do. Sadly, the population of the United States (congress included) only think about the military when they are needed most, not when we are in peacetime, but when we are at war with another.

To stand by and watch this erosion of our military to minimal strength at a time when we should wake up every day and thank whatever God we pray to that they are there, no matter what, is a complacency that is difficult to bear, much less understand.

We shall have no better conditions in the future if we are satisfied with all those which we have at present.


Just my two cents...