Ren's Ramblings & Writings

Contemplations on things tangible and intangible

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My SpouseBuzz response to "Advisory panels say military benefits unsustainable", edited to send to President Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I am distressed about issues of significance to service members and military families. I have tried to contact congressmen and senators regarding previous issues, to no avail. So I am now writing to you.

I just read Advisory panels say military benefits unsustainable by Tom Philpott.

Military transition to civilian life at 20 years is not guaranteed, nor is it easy. My husband made 20 years this month. As you well know, if a service member retires, he/she can be called back at any time in the future. I know this, as I am a retired soldier as well as an Army wife. The service member who is actually able to retire at 20 (in this economy), and successfully begins their life anew, is fortunate, but still challenged to translate their military experience into civilian terms, and then to market him or herself successfully. Add to that mix any number of the disabilities that service members are taking with them as extra life baggage when they leave the military, and they have to work hard proving to a civilian employers that they’re actually employable. If, in fact, the service member is employable. Did you know that: the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states “Two-thirds[of homeless veterans] served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.” I interpret this as ONLY three years. Let’s talk about what more than three years does to a service member, especially with today’s OPTEMPO. Yep. Three years and you too can suffer the rest of your life from deployment injuries, both tangible and less tangible.

I also can’t fathom the fact that politicians think it’s perfectly acceptable to expect service members to jeopardize their lives so THEY, can sleep at night, and then leave service members stranded as a thank you in return. There is NO COMPARISON between an IT guy or a CEO who works cozily for any other corporation, and the lives of service members and their families. My husband has been deployed 4 times and been to Korea, and is preparing for another deployment, all since 2001! Add to that the fact that just because they’re not deployed, that does not mean they are at home! And I cannot BEGIN to describe what we’re dealing with now-PTSD AND TBI, both of which have effects that last well into years beyond, and which THE FAMILY gets to somehow learn how to cope with. With what I have to contend with for the next 40 years as his wife, I TOO deserve the relief of knowing that, even though we’ve got our work cut out for ourselves in years to come, personally and for our marriage in dealing with PTSD AND TBI, at least my husband will have his retirement benefits, giving us one less thing to worry about.

Service members don’t leave their families and go to Iraq because they’re expecting gifts or an easy life. My husband, a combat engineer, so loves his job, that he would do it even if the world didn’t give military discounts and even if old ladies didn’t stop him in the supermarket to thank him for his service. And he does it despite the long deployments and frequent, sporadic absences from his family. We’ve been in this house since February 2008, but my husband has yet to unpack and “nest.” He does not complain, and neither do we. I love living with a man who not only ADORES his job, but finds purpose and is good at it.

But today’s OPTEMPO demands have multiplied in the past 20 years, and ethics scream louder than ever on behalf of service members who deserve their retirement. And, as the article states, “…only 20 percent stay long enough to earn a retirement." What many fail to realize is what we Americans pay presidents who only serve AT MOST eight years:
“The retirement benefits received by former Presidents include a pension, Secret Service protection, and reimbursements for staff, travel, mail, and office expenses. The Presidential pension is not a fixed amount, rather it matches the current salary of Cabinet members (or Executive Level I personnel), which is $191,300/year as of March, 2008...”

Philpott quotes in this week’s article:

“But rapid expansion of military entitlements has become part of "the nation’s mandatory spending problems, "the task force found. Among "significant unsustainable trends" that the task force listed is paying military retirees and their families "for 60 years after they have served only 20."”
This statement leads to the erroneous conclusion that even though a service member, who has risked his or her life, and possibly has disabilities affecting not only him/herself, but also the family and every other area of his/her life, is somehow not entitled to 60 years of pension, since he or she only jeopardized and endured 20 physical years of service. How do you measure the quality of life that his or her service has so drastically and detrimentally affected for life? Is the service member somehow less deserving of having his/her quality of life maintained than a president?

Never mind that some veterans are so disabled by their duty experiences that some of them physically cannot work. We will just throw them to the curb and let them try to survive off of the already limited and overburdened VA system and social security benefits. My husband, and our family, thanks to PTSD AND TBI, will CONTINUE to contend with his disabilities, when he retires, FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. How do you put a price tag on my husband’s and our family’s quality of life, which the military is responsible for? All this, and the Army’s response is to prescribe more pills, keep deploying them when they’re not recovered, and then take away the one thing that compensates for all the crap: retirement and health benefits.

I cannot believe that it has come to this. Politicians, who do not truly care or take the time to know what military families truly need, want to focus on legislation that allows me, as a spouse, to take leave when my husband is about to deploy, like they think this is actually what I need. And even my own congressman could care less. Yet, politicians, who, to quote Hollywood, “rise and sleep under the blanket of the very freedom" that service members provide, want to take away the one benefit that career service members and their families truly need and look forward to in the years to come after military service has done its damage and taken its toll. Perhaps they should put on a uniform and pick up a rifle and participate in today’s OPTEMPO. Fight waste, fraud and abuse. Don’t harm the very people you rely on.

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