Debt Ceiling Debate and Military Families

It’s been a very tense several days for the military community: service members in Afghanistan questioned the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about whether they’d be paid, and Congress and the Administration seemed unable to agree on much of anything. However, Congress has finally passed an agreement to raise the debt ceiling and keep the country from defaulting on its obligations. 

Last week, Association Executive Director Joyce Raezer joined representatives of several other military and veteran service organizations at a White House meeting on the debt ceiling crisis. Administration officials urged the organizations to communicate with Congressional Members about the need to raise the ceiling. Staff discussed the differences between the competing House and Senate leadership plans in terms of meeting administration priorities. Organization leaders, including Ms. Raezer, emphasized that our members, veterans, and military families are divided on the specifics of a debt ceiling bill, but agreed a solution was needed immediately.

Ms. Raezer reminded White House staff of the damage uncertainty about a potential failure to raise the ceiling was doing to the stress among troops and their families. Unfortunately, as was seen in the exchange between Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen and service members in Afghanistan on Saturday, the government did not clarify what would happen to military pay if the country went into default. An opportunity was missed to alleviate the stress of service members and their families.

While a deal has been made to raise the debt ceiling, our Association is concerned about reports that $350 billion of the $1 trillion to be saved over ten years would come from the defense budget. Plus, the agreement’s “enforcement mechanism” calls for additional defense cuts beginning in 2013 should a new bipartisan committee not find an additional deficit reduction of $1.5 trillion by the end of 2011.

The National Military Family Association asserts that the Department of Defense (DoD) must have the resources to deal with the long-term effects of ten years at war on service members, veterans, and their families, as well as the capacity to meet emerging needs as the wars continue. Military families are taxpayers, too, and we know they are concerned about the financial health of the country they serve. However, our Nation’s leaders must be wary of any attempts to balance the country’s accounts on the assumption of a “peace dividend.” Our Association will examine the exact nature of the proposed cuts closely and work to ensure that programs military families need remain off the chopping block.

We’ve heard the voices of many military families concerned about how a failure to resolve the debt ceiling issue would affect them. We are appalled that military families that already shoulder a huge burden for their Nation experienced this added stress, which caused them to question the country’s recognition of their service. We thank financial institutions serving the military community that stepped up to reassure their members that services would be in place to assist them if pay was delayed. The National Military Family Association will continue to work to ensure defense cuts do not take away needed support for military families.

[Note, for an account of Chairman Mullen’s visit with the troops, go to www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=64865. For the message from the Secretary of Defense about the debt ceiling issue, go to www.defense.gov/home/features/2011/0711_message1/. For a White House summary of the provisions of the deal, go to www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/07/31/president-obama-speaks-support-bipartisan-deal-reduce-deficit-and-raise-debt-limit.]

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