Recently, my wife and I received our letters. They were signed by W. Bryan Gamble, M.D., FACS, Brigadier General, US Army. His signature block identifies him as the Deputy Director of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Health Affairs.
“Beginning October 1, 2013, TRICARE Prime [our healthcare insurance] coverage will not be available where you currently live…”
The letter tells us that we may still be able to enroll in TRICARE Prime at a military treatment facility. I mention that for the benefit of our Congressional representatives from the state of West Virginia who should know that there are no military treatment facilities in our state. I do not recall any of them raising a ruckus.
The General, whose letter was signed with an illegible electronic pen scribble, also instructed us:
“As you prepare for this change, you should look carefully at your health care options, such as using TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra or obtaining insurance through a spouse or an employer.” [because the country you and your family served is finished with you]
All of those options are more expensive than TRICARE Prime. Not to worry about my wife or me. We will survive. We always have. We left the military with about the same as we had when we entered it. Enlisted military families who serve a lifetime in uniform do not have much opportunity to build wealth. Our pensions are never enough to live on, so regardless of the years in uniform work after service remains a necessity. Health care coverage offered through TRICARE Prime is a significant retirement benefit. There will be no increase in pensions to make up for the added costs. Some of us caught in the window where work is ended and age 65 has not yet arrived must just suck it up.
It was years of struggle before military retirees and their families had any form of the promised lifetime of healthcare for a lifetime of service. Even with what we now have, we are dumped into MEDICARE as soon as we turn 65, without which we would have no coverage. Not even TRICARE For Life.
I read where it was necessary to start making these changes in health care coverage because it now makes up an estimated 10 percent of the Department of Defense “non-war fighting” budget. I thought that was an interesting note. I spent 28 years in the Army. I can assure you that the waste and unnecessary expenditures in that other 90 percent far exceeds the 10 percent spent on health care. Lord help us we should reduce the amount of cherry wood furniture filling those opulent Pentagon offices or reduce the travel budgets of the service chiefs, or the chairman. The idea that health care coverage is breaking the defense budget is a gigantic red herring.
No, it is simply an easy target for lazy Defense Department budget bureaucrats and politicians. Military retirees, actually Veterans and serving members of the Armed Forces in general are not a very powerful voting bloc. We never have been. Soldiers always counted on the people they protected to look out for them. Naiveté exemplified. We simply are not the sought after identity group that politicians seem hell-bent to slobber over these days. No. Now as in the past serving members, retirees and their families have been the soft target when it comes to the “shared sacrifice” so important to modern political speak. Looks like the share we banked over the years drew little interest in Washington’s bank of political expediency. That is fine. We have become used to it. As Soldiers, new and old, we all know how to improvise, adapt and overcome and to never count on a politician for anything.
Our God and soldiers we alike adore,
Ev’n at the brink of danger; not before;
After deliverance, both alike requited,
Our God’s forgotten, and our soldiers slighted. – Frances Quarles, 1632
I have avoided writing about this for some time because truthfully it makes me a little sick to my stomach and like too many others, I have remained in denial. I am loyal to the bone when it comes to the Armed Forces and most especially the Army, to those serving and to those who have served. I did have difficulty in my lifetime inside the Army supporting politically focused leaders as opposed to Soldier focused ones.
I have encouraged many young people to serve, even my own son. Today I do not believe I could, with heartfelt conviction, encourage a young American to serve. And it is for many reasons. Sadly, I have heard from Retired Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) who are Combat Veterans from Vietnam through the present wars and from currently serving NCOs who share the same sentiment. These old Soldiers talk about service with those considering it. I have also heard from serving Soldiers about deteriorating morale, discipline, and basic Soldier skills.
I just saw where tuition assistance was stopped because sequestration is having such a devastating impact on the services. Bull. If you do not understand tuition assistance, suffice it to say that it subsidizes tuition for those currently serving on active duty that have the opportunity to attend college classes in their off-duty time. Many, many serving enlisted members of the Armed Forces using this program were and are able to complete college degrees while serving. Degrees that are necessary for the jobs they will need to find to continue to support their families with any kind of quality of life when they leave the service.
It is not just about picking away at important benefits – benefits that enable recruiting and retention. The degrading of our military is moving full steam ahead. Ten years of wars degrade a force and Washington’s politicians appear to have different priorities for the Armed Forces and from where I stand – on the outside looking in these days – they have replaced the senior leadership of our services with politically minded people more apt to go along with social engineering schemes than call BS on them.
Suicide rates are unheard of. Know your Soldiers, I was always taught.
We traded a Secretary of Defense whose primary focus appeared to be homosexual service and women in direct combat for one who is a proven anti-Semite and whose focus has always been to cut defense to the bone and disarm our country. Our Soldiers have served under rules of engagement that have resulted in many of them being murdered by the people they are supposedly there to protect and train.
Open homosexual service was forced into the services under the guise that it was all about service and under the falsity that most of those serving supported it. If it was about service, then don’t ask, don’t tell would have sufficed. But, it was never about service. America was lied to. That is why we have seen so many public displays. Public displays that in the past were not even tolerated for uniformed heterosexual military couples. That is why we have seen same-sex wedding ceremonies performed in chapels on military bases. That is why the Secretary of Defense extended dependent benefits to same-sex partners. Apparently, benefits for same-sex partners is affordable while tuition assistance to serving Soldiers is not.
Military Chaplains and serving career Soldiers are instructed to get with the program, your Christian beliefs and values be-dammed, or move on to another career. Some have, more will and they will carry with them those thoughts when talking to young Americans about service. That old Army bullet point that rates a leader on his/her willingness to stand up and fight for what he/she believes is right went out the window along with many of those “cherished values” on which senior military leaders wax so eloquently. They talk it, but YOU better not walk it.
Women in direct combat assignments? It will never be about meeting a physical standard. It will be about a gender-normed physical standard. That is the mindset that believes a woman’s ability to run 2 miles in 20 minutes is equivalent to a man having to do it in 14. A woman doing 20 push-ups is the same as a man having to do 50. The United States of America has the finest trained most capable individual combat Soldiers that exist today. Our focus will shift from putting the most capable Soldier in combat to putting one there who met the normed standard because some Congress person or well-heeled feminist who has never walked a mile in a pair of combat boots believes it is the “equal opportunity” thing to do. Utopian.
The more I think, the more disheartened I become. I pray for our Serving Men and Women often. I pray for their protection and I pray that God will provide them competent and courageous leaders. I pray for their families, knowing the sacrifices they too make – and it never seems to be enough.
Unless and until Washington’s politicians put a modicum of thought into the damage their actions inflict on people who are serving or have served and their families, all living breathing people, and until we find military leaders with the courage to question boldly we are in trouble. In trouble in a dangerous world and left with an Army whose future is conscripts – boy and girl conscripts.