Proposed DoD Budget Falls Short for Military Families

Military benefits took center stage on the Hill March 8, and NMFA was there to make sure families weren’t left out of the conversation. The Senate Armed Services Committee Personnel Subcommittee held a hearing to consider changes suggested in the Department of Defense (DoD) budget proposal.

There are several areas of the budget that would never get military families’ stamp of approval—but our Association’s Executive Director, Joyce Raezer, took on the top 2: pay and military health system reform.

For the fourth year in a row, military pay raises would be lower than those in the private sector. DoD is proposing a 1.6% raise in 2017, when the national average is 2.1%. Why is half a percent a problem?

“The day to day grind is what’s wearing our folks down to the point where they say– we can’t do this anymore, said Raezer. “What is the incentive for somebody who’s highly skilled to stay? Especially if their skills are in high demand on the outside. If they can find a better opportunity, they take it.”

But the paychecks are only part of the problem. Compensation cuts are doing a number on morale, but problems with military health care are the nail in the coffin.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) made a strong statement for how to best support military readiness—and it’s all about their families. “There’s nothing more we can do for our service members than make sure we’re taking care of their families back home.”

Health care is the most basic of needs, and those needs are not being met. Raezer told the panel most families can’t get acute care appointments within 24 hours—yet DoD wants to drive more families to military treatment facilities. She called the DoD’s changes to the military healthcare system “repackaged TRICARE,” with higher costs and no expansion of networks or improvement of benefits.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) agreed and said “repackaging can’t happen-reform must be reform and not cost-shifting.” He asked Raezer for suggestions on how to make that happen.

“Start with the problems we need to solve,” said Raezer. And then talk about what people should pay. Consider the whole health care system.” She reminded the panel military hospitals are already failing and we can’t look to those failing treatment centers for solutions to this monumental health care problem.

Raezer also took on mental health care—a growing issue that can’t be ignored. She cited NMFA’s survey of 6,100 military spouses, which showed 40% of them had looked for mental health care for themselves or a family member. The military health system is not equipped to deal with those numbers and the need has to be addressed.

In her closing statement, Raezer reminded lawmakers a military family’s quality of life is key to a service member’s quality of service. “Does this budget make a service member more ready to perform the mission? Does it make a mom feel her sick child’s health is a priority?” Raezer asked. “Does it ease uncertainty? Does it ensure support will be available?”

DoD must take a comprehensive look at how to best ensure military family needs are met. It’s not something that can be done piecemeal. The daily struggles add up and hurt the families our nation needs to remain strong.

You can read NMFA’s full testimony, which includes recommendations on child care, spouse employment, and mental health care here.

Posted March 8, 2016

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