Testifying Before Congress: Military Families Deserve Better than Jell-O on a Wall

Kathy Moakler Testifying

From lower pay raises and BAH to commissary cuts and less medical coverage… it feels like everything military families were promised is on the table. Today our Association had the opportunity to tell the military family story to the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). We sat on a panel alongside our colleagues from The Military Coalition (TMC) to say this: there has to be a better way.

One TMC member described the piecemeal DoD cuts as “throwing Jell-O on a wall.” We had just four minutes to explain our stance, which focused on family programs, protecting the commissary benefit, and disparities in survivor benefits. The written testimony we submitted (all 30+ pages of it) covers much more than that—ending sequestration, caring for our wounded families, and issues impacting military kids’ education.

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand, Chairman of the Committee, made her feelings on the budget known. “It’s not just a number,” she said.  “It’s a consequence to real people that sacrifice every day for this country.” She also hit on something our Association has been trying to understand:

Why not wait for the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to finish its work? Without waiting for the Commission’s findings, Congress only has half the story.

“The Senators on the Committee have a lot of questions,” said our Association’s Government Relations Director Kathy Moakler. “They’re not just going to rubber stamp the budget proposal. They want to see the whys and the hows.”

Senator Lindsey Graham asked his fellow Senators and Congressmen to “make structural changes that don’t affect quality of life. We can find the shortfall somewhere else.”

And that’s what we want too! But we need your help in proving how the budget proposals truly impact military families.

Please tell us:

  • What do Commissaries mean to you and your family’s budget?
  • What kind of a hit would your family take if BAH were lower?
  • How often do you seek medical care not available through an MTF?

Tell us in the comments below, or email us at GovernmentRelations@militaryfamily.org

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Comment: The overall savings (30%) provided our Military Families at the DOD Commissaries fat exceeds to a ratio of 5 to 1 the appropriated fund support for the Stores. Will Congress reimburse the loss of $4000. per year per Famiy if Commissaries are closed our greatly reduced in the Savings afforded? Even the DOD Directive governing the Operation of the Commissary System states that the Benefit is a key Pay benefit. Just keeping the Stores open with MAX of 10% savings will spell the end of the CONU5 Stores, which in turn will hurt sales at the Exchanges as well, lack of shopping traffic.
Submitted by: JR .CAPT RET on April 15, 2014
Comment: I can honestly say that I use the commissary on almost a daily basis. While I don't live on base, I do work on base and I have my big shopping trip every 2 weeks at payday, but usually stop at the commissary for lunch thorughout the week. I went into 'town' this past week for groceries and busted my set budget by a landslide and didn't even get everything that my family needed, at that was shopping at Walmart. The commissary allows my family to stay on budget while still purchasing everything that we need. If we didn't have the commissary, while my family could still make it financially, it would make it more challenging and we woudl have to do considerably more with less (while this isn't a new concept to the military, try explaining that to a two year old who wants his strawberry milk). As for BAH being lowered; my husband and I made the decision to purchase our home off base at our newest location. We made sure that the mortgage payment would be less than his BAH, however we count on that extra BAH to go towards utilities, which is what it is intended for. If you want our men and women to have adequate housing, you can't continue to cut their BAH, it isn't fair to them. You shouldn't have to worry about being able to afford a house or apartment that is safe and decent along with everything else you have to worry about in the military. There are so many other areas in the government that can be cut to ensure our budget is where it needs to be, do not continue to take from those that selflessly put thier lives on the line and their families who support those sacrifices by taking what was promised to them.
Submitted by: Proud AF Spouse on April 3, 2014
Comment: Commissary shopping is a once a month ritual for our family. We live a little more than an hour from the nearest base. We load up ice chests and drive there each month to stock up on the basics and stretch our dollar. While we do use the local grocery store frequently for last minute purchases and fresh fruit and vegetables, our paycheck doesn't support regularly shopping there for major restocking. We save more than 30% on our monthly shopping trips. We own a modest size 3 bedroom house in a good neighborhood. The house has basic necessities and no extras that today's families look for. BAH doesn't cover the mortgage, and we didn't expect it to, we are fortunate to have two paychecks to help with our bills and children old enough to be out of child care. However, reducing BAH would financially cripple our family even with the our second paycheck. I can imagine what it would do to families either more junior than we are or with younger children... it isn't pretty. Finally, the tricare changes are not well thought out. Some military families are able to have double coverage for healthcare. Consider those the 1%. Most military families including ours rely on tricare as our earned right. All of these money saving ideas together constitute a substantial pay cut for military members who already sacrifice daily for this country. You'll be putting these many families into desperate situations where the outcomes may be disastrous.
Submitted by: laragans on April 2, 2014
Comment: I am a spouse with 3 children, 2 of whom have disabilities and require several appointments every week for therapies of different kinds and then a 4 year old that would require daycare. Because of the cost of daycare for my disabled children combined with the cost of the daycare for the 4 year old and the "JOKE" of a job market that Michelle Obama has made for military spouses, I am unable to work, yet I am unable to get disability payments for my 2 children with disabilities because we are over income for them to receive payments. A cut to our income would mean that we wouldn't be able to live anymore. We already live paycheck to paycheck because of the copays for my children's therapies and living in Virginia Beach, VA is a very expensive place to live with tolls just to go to the military hospital for my children to see their specialists, extremely high taxes on EVERYTHING, and the price of every day expenses are rediculous my high. The government taking away the benefits from our military and military families when welfare recipients get better treatments than we do is more than offensive. The president want to complain about people not getting paid enough minimum wage, yet military wages have been below minimum wage for a long time and they only want to cut wages and benefits further. Not to mention this being a blatant breach of contract because all of the benefits are in the contract of employment for the military, but the biggest problem with that is that the contract has to be renewed every 4 years and they can edit the contract as needed after 4 years at the re-enlistment. Any other employer that tried to do that would have the biggest lawsuit on their hands, but the military community just has to sit and take it. It isn't fair that the government can do this to the military and make it to where we end up malnourished and living in unsafe areas, but welfare people in section 8 housing live in nice houses for next to nothing getting food stamps to more than feed their family and don't need to lift a finger to get it because they will receive it until their kids move out of their house ( I know because my sister has been doing it for the last 13 years now and she gets plenty of money and even went to school for free 4 years ago, but has never even gone to a job interview in the last 13 years and her children are ages 13, 11, and 10).
Submitted by: Suzie on April 2, 2014
Comment: When you live off of one income, every penny counts! Often it's not by choice that spouses don't work or only can get lower paying/part time jobs because we have to move soften and sometimes on extreme short notice, we have to make the best we can off of my husbands pay and often in very high price areas to live like around DC or CA. Military life is rough enough on the family unit like never before in history with the frequent deployments and now you want to make it harder for us to provide for our family even though we are sacrificing so much in return?!? Let's talk about the enlisted who already get the short end of the stick pay wise and the worse of housing quality... They sacrifice just as much of their lives and time away from family yet are made to live barely above poverty level housing standards! And now you want to cut that even more!?! There are so many corporate welfare areas of the budget that should be FIRST on the chopping block! Our military families who sacrifice more than the adverse citizen and certainly more than our elected officials, lobbiests and bloated corperations... we should be the LAST place to trim the budget! For all that we sacrifice, some the ultimate sacrifice... this is disgusting!
Submitted by: Leslie on April 1, 2014
Comment: We have been lied to, taken advantaged of, lost family time, overworked, faced danger, underpaid, etc. and now more is trying to be taken away. Let' trade places for a few years before the final decision is made!!!
Submitted by: Arbonneuser on April 1, 2014
Comment: We are in California, housing wait is 12 plus months, base childcare is 6 plus months. We are living in the community which in San Diego is quite expensive. I have always worked, however without affordable housing and childcare, I am not working. The sacrifices that our families endure for the freedoms for country- and congress, and you want to take the little benefits we receive? Not only do I not want our benefits eliminated, I want the basics improved, housing and childcare!
Submitted by: Betsy on April 1, 2014
Comment: We are stationed at an I&I in San Jose CA. We are a family of 4 having to live in the 2 bedroom base housing. we pay 2000.00 A month for a very outdated apartment with several problems, and no AC. The other base housing would cost us 3000.00 for a 3 bedroom. We live in base housing, but are not on the base. So there is no protection for us. The cost of living even in base housing here is ridiculous. You put us out here then take everything our husbands and wife work so hard for. My husband has to use a civilian doctor most times,and Tricare wont even pay for treatments for him until he suffers for up to a year. It's disgusting. No one out here take tricare for vision exams either. So on top of paying full price for glasses, we pay for exams also. We are very grateful for the commissaries other wise we would not be able to afford to eat. ground beef meat at safeway is $8 plus dollars compared to $4 from the commissaries. My family really appreciates and needs the commissaries and their prices. We wouldn't be able to make it paying 2-3 times that on groceries. As far as lowering our BAH maybe you should look at the places you station people before you do that.
Submitted by: Heather on March 31, 2014
Comment: The base we are stationed at has a very small commissary.(no deli, bakery). With that being said, I don't care, it is still cheaper for me to go shopping there versus out in town. We have 5 children 11 to 2, so they eat a lot! We live on base for a few different reasons, but 1 being we wouldn't be able to afford off base. There is not good employment here so I would be in a very big pickle if they decreased these benefits even more. Its not like they get paid overtime....
Submitted by: Courtney on March 31, 2014
Comment: We depend on the Commissaries. I plan my budget on being able to save that little bit of money at the commissary. That little bit can make a huge difference when your living paycheck to paycheck. We would struggle even more if the BAH was lowered. It's hard enough to find a good job that covers the cost of childcare and transit to and from plus have money left over to make a difference. We never seek medical care not available through an MTF unless we are referred out. It's just too costly.
Submitted by: Riss on March 31, 2014
Comment: If BAH was to decrease, it would force families who can not get on-post housing back into substandard housing situations in low-income areas, which by the way, this already happens. The BAH in some areas is not enough to cover rent in the areas with better school districts and cleaner communities. Not all military families are stationed near installations, and on-post housing is not an option. It would hurt families who are already paying out of pocket to cover living expenses.
Submitted by: Liz on March 31, 2014
Comment: BAH is on thing that keeps us up with two kids and me struggling to make me some one to help my husband. There's also that chance he might get deployed soon ( as with anyone) so that confert knowing I can still care for the kids and I helps everything's harder with him gone/ a little scarier because you don't lean on them too for help you stay positive for them. Commissarys help much more with two kids there seriosuly a life saver!!! I have kidney problems my daughter is still unknown to cut it would strain us deeper- we need to get my kidneys help before there time runs out and my daughter they have to find what she has cutting it isn't am option I'm in the hospital 2 times outa 3 months. We are already on help for the kids as well, with all my medical going it's been putting unexpected holds on my schooling for RN ....:(
Submitted by: on March 31, 2014
Comment: Without the commisary I have no doubt my grocery bill would increase at least by $300 per month. If our BAH is cut, we would have to sell our home because we couldn't afford the mortgage, electric, water and sewer which our BAH covers now. Our loan is VA so that would put more strain on an already fragile system. And in an effort to get our children into a better school system, we live a bit further from my husbands base, which means we utilize non MTF facilities more. Without this option we would have to drive 30-40 miles to receive medical care. We already cut coupons, grow our own vegetables, eat at home almost every single night and everyone takes a homemade lunch to work and school. If these cuts continue, we would no longer be able to support ourselves let alone plan and save for a better future! Our service men and women already don't make minimum wage, but these cuts would make it impossible for people to continue to be a part of our all volunteer military!!!
Submitted by: Blondiesjr on March 31, 2014
Comment: This outrageous, please stop taking hard earned benefits away from military members and their families. My husband and I rely on the commissary and our BAH when assigned to extremely expensive places to live like DC. Our kids both use diapers and it saves our family to get the savings. Military members are paid less than they would be in the outside workforce and both Commissaries and BAH are supposed to help cover the difference. Military spouses move continuously and may not get employment at each move. Stop breaking promises to people who are deploying or have deployed to protect and serve our country! Find other "pet projects" to cut and be honorable servants instead of shortsighted congress members. As my husband sets to deploy again my very young children and I have enough to worry about without having our benefits cut!
Submitted by: Jen W on March 31, 2014
Comment: Our family is stationed here in Hawaii, our family needs these benefits to stay intact. The commissary is a benefit to us because everything out in town is 3 times the cost than it is at the commissary. Living in Hawaii we have a higher cost of living. I mean $7 for a gallon of milk? It's a lot of a family of 4. If our BAH was lowered there would be no possible way to afford current market rent in Hawaii even for a 2 bedroom and a family of 4 with pets cannot stay in a 1 bedroom. Yes the affect is on our pets. You will see more families unable to care for their animals due to the financial hardship. Also the wait list to get into military housing will be longer ringing up costs for a hotel. We are on Tricare prime and we only go to an MTF unless our primary care doctor refers us to a specialist in town. But most of the time we only have the option to go to an MTF. The benefit of our prescriptions is a bonus to an E-5 family with the service member as the only income being generated.
Submitted by: Jenn on March 31, 2014
Comment: If the commissaries are cut, BAH lowered and our Tricare costs increased, then what we have, in effect, is a pay cut. Two years ago, we were heroes who deserved every bit of our compensation and more. Today, we are described as excess and our contractual compensation as entitlements. As is our families are burdened with attempting to find providers who accept our fabulous insurance and then arguing with Tricare over doctor prescribed treatments. Years spent trudging in the deserts being shot at daily (I say again, DAILY)and Tricare pays the same scale as if we were unemployed. (Medicare/Medicaid) The fraud behind the yellow ribbon and 'support our troops' nauseates me. Most of all where our elected officials are concerned. It is a waste of my energy to type anecdotal evidence, because none of them truly care. Read Tommy by Rudyard Kipling. There is nothing new under the sun.
Submitted by: BB on March 31, 2014
Comment: The Commissaries have saved us thousands of dollars each year, particularly when our children were young and we bought diapers and baby items there. People who claim the Commissary does not save them any money have never been stationed where I live now, or at our two previous duty stations. I save about 30% on most items I buy. Without the Commissaries, we would have to drastically change our monthly spending and slow down debt repayment. BAH does not cover all of our expenses now; we buy flood insurance because we have had far too many experiences with hurricane-related flood damage, and the cost of that goes up each year, as do our other insurance premiums. This year's cold winter has resulted in $400/month combined gas/electrical bills, in spite of our efforts to conserve. Lowering BAH just exposes military families to more out-of-pocket costs without recognizing that each move (we've moved 10 times) creates expenses and spousal income loss that BAH and the Dislocation Allowance don't cover. We have had many experiences seeking medical care outside an MTF. Three of our family members use a non-MTF Tricare Prime equivalent HMO because our local MTFs don't have enough doctors, paraprofessionals, appointment slots or even parking spaces to deliver adequate care to family members (or even active duty, it seems to me, based on our many years of experience being stationed in this area). We have also used non-MTF specialists for serious sports injuries and for conditions that the MTF could not treat (this latter case required a civilian neurologist to diagnose; the MTF PAs did not recognize the medical condition at all and would not provide referrals to a military neurologist, so we used my health insurance to pay for this diagnostic visit). In closing, there are far, far better ways to save money than to inflict financial pain on our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. I urge Congress to wait for the official report next year and to consider reductions that could be made in other areas, such as closing under-used military bases, reassessing expensive but unused or under-used weapons programs and delaying investments in futuristic, currently non-existent technology in favor of proven technologies already in place, such as the Tomahawk cruise missile. This is not the time to gut our Armed Forces by creating financial pain that pushes our already-trained enlisted folks out the door in search of better pay and employers who don't break recruitment promises.
Submitted by: NP on March 31, 2014
Comment: I read a story the other day that said the troops understand the cuts and would take a pay cut so the training money would continue to flow. While that may be “true” that it was said, I will tell you it was “said” because no one tells those above them “I can’t do without that for my family” or “That will hurt my family not just financially but emotionally”. We are taught to hide stress, to take what is given even if it’s not enough. Don’t complain, it will come back to you. Find a way to make it work. Well. You will not get many “real” replies from those who are in the mix right now. They will find a way, but it will be at a different cost to the families. Divorce, suicides, other stresses is what comes from these budget cuts. It is sad in so many ways.
Submitted by: Flyer Fred on March 31, 2014
Comment: I honestly don't think the commissary makes much difference in our budget. We live far enough from the base that it would cost more in gas money than we would be saving, to use the commissary instead of the local grocery store. However, if BAH were lowered,we would no longer be able to pay our mortgage. We would either be forced to sell our house and move to a less expensive home, or get a 2nd job. As far as the medical concerns, we always use a MTF if available. The only time we would use a civilian doctor would be if we were traveling, had a medical emergency, and there were no MTF's around.
Submitted by: BK on March 31, 2014
Comment: If it were not for Commissaries, simply put,, there is no way our family would have been able to purchase groceries. Bear inmind that both of us was bringing in a paycheck. This last move has truly left us financially crippled. The BAH for this new area is well below the average cost for living. I have hear "rumors" that this issue is beinging looked at. Due to this we plan a trip about every 2-3 weeks to drive the hours to the nearest base commissary (45 miles). I chests in tow. We have no other choice because we cannot afford to puchase a half gallon on milke for $4.
Submitted by: OSSpouse on March 30, 2014
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