Throughout 2013, sequestration has been a hot topic within the military community. Organizations and military family advocates have worked to inform the community of what it means, what impacts are being felt now, and what may happen in the short term if Congress fails to act.
Furloughs for mental healthcare appointments, lost wages for civilian employees, and commissary closings are just some examples of what has occurred to date. Yet, it is possible that the topic has come up so often that it is being drowned out because it is hard to grasp the enormity of what sequestration actually signifies for the military force and your military family. However, the conclusions made by a recent review of the Strategic Choices and Management Review should grab the immediate attention of every citizen within this Nation. Four months ago, the Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel formed the SCMR to ensure the Department of Defense (DOD) was equipped to face “unprecedented budget uncertainty.” The review, which was headed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, evaluated the Defense budget and provided options for how to deal with additional cuts.
It is important to note that the Secretary of Defense strongly reaffirms in his own words that “no one in uniform is overpaid for what they do for this country” and “people are DOD’s most important asset, and we must sustain compensation packages that recruit and retain the finest military in the world.” Nevertheless, sequestration is forcing leadership to make tough choices. Four examples of options presented by the review are:
- Changing military health care for retirement — for retirees to increase use of private-sector insurance when available;
- Changing how the basic allowance for housing is calculated, so that individuals are asked to pay a little more of their own housing costs;
- Reducing the overseas cost-of-living adjustments; and
- Continuing to limit military and civilian pay increases.
Since 2001, the Post 9/11 wars led to a dramatic increase in personnel costs of 40% above inflation. Bottom line, the department cannot afford to sustain this growth. DOD Spokesperson, Jennifer Elzea stressed to Military Spouse magazine that “we must be very clear here– the information DOD’s senior leadership have laid out from the Strategic Choices Management Review are a series of CHOICES the Department may face in the future, if sequestration continues. They are NOT DECISIONS at this time.” Additionally, she provided Secretary Hagel’s comments regarding the compensation choices offered by the SCMR; he said, “The review confirmed that no serious attempt to achieve significant savings can avoid sequestration — or compensation cuts, which consume roughly half of the DOD budget. If left unchecked, pay and benefits will continue to eat into our readiness and modernization. That could result in a far less capable force that is well-compensated, but poorly trained and poorly equipped.”
What does this mean to you?
If sequestration continues, compensation cuts will have to occur in order for the Department of Defense to operate. Further, sequestration will continue in the absence of an agreement by Congress that replaces the Budget Control Act. It is important to stress again that the named compensation changes were presented as options and no final decision to adopt the options has been made. Secretary Hagel has instructed General Dempsey and other senior officials to provide a proposal that meets savings’ targets while allowing the department to continue to retain and recruit qualified men and women to serve this country. Next up: Secretary Hagel will now take the recommendations into account as he prepares to submit the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) to Congress in February 2014.
Proactive Versus Reactive
At the recommendation of Secretary Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dempsey, the President notified Congress last week that he will exempt military personnel accounts from sequestration in fiscal year 2014. The temporary relief from sequestration cannot and should not lead to gratification. It is not an issue that the members of this community can hope others will work on, it requires an all hands on deck approach. Military Spouse magazine will continue to provide updates in partnership with the leading organizations within the military community who want to #EndSequestration.
How Can YOU Be Proactive?
Congress. Congress. Congress: Find out who your elected leadership is and call them, write them, attend their town halls.
Write: Blog, submit OpEds to your local newspapers about how sequestration is and will affect your military community.
Be informed: Organizations like MOAA (https://www.moaa.org/) and the National Military Family Association (https://www.militaryfamily.org/) are providing continuous updates on the evolving situation, to include facts, the numbers, and latest happenings.
Use your voice: Speak up and share your personal stories. Social media is a very powerful tool.
Sign the petition:
National Military Family Association has created an online petition after numerous attempts to have our collective voice heard by Congress. https://www.change.org/petitions/congress-endsequestration?utm_campaign=mailto_link&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition
Information in this article was obtained from DOD spokesperson DOD Jennifer Elzea