By Tim Farrell, Chief Operating Officer and Interim CEO, Operation Homefront.
Two weeks ago, you could almost hear a (virtual) pin drop before the announcement of the findings of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). The Services are still buckling from the heavy toll exacted on people and equipment from more than 13 years of war – and sequestration remains the law of the land returning next fiscal year unless our elected officials choose a more reasoned approach. How much bigger of a sacrifice will be asked of our military and their families?
Military pay and compensation is always a topic you must be prepared to dive into. Changes to military pay and compensation are almost certain to attract passionate responses. But as more detailed information about the contents of the report began to leak, and then after the 300+ page paper dropped, the responses across social media were surprisingly moderate.
Perhaps it was due to the fact that the Commission visited 55 military installations and gathered more than 150,000 responses and input from military members, their families, and veterans over two years. Or maybe that the reality of tight fiscal conditions and the 21st Century military means accepting that the status quo is unrealistic.
Perhaps, it is indeed time for fresh ideas.
After all, the stated focus of the MCRMC was to modernize. In fact, commissioners testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee were quite blunt about it. Repeatedly, the mission of the Commission was described as modernizing, not cutting costs.
It is no surprise that the Commission landed heavily on retirement and health care. The current military retirement system is 70-plus years old. Currently, as designed, only 17 percent of those who serve will make it to the 20-year mark, and a significantly larger percentage of officers reach retirement than enlisted members. Under the MCRMC proposal, it is estimated that 75 percent of those who serve will leave with some retirement benefit. Combined with significant emphasis on financial education throughout one’s time in service, this could mean strengthening our military and their families, not only while they serve, but helping build a strong foundation for life after their service has ended. This does not come without risk, and puts a greater onus on service members and their families to plan financially for their long-term sustainability.
TRICARE was implemented in the 1990s, and in speaking with families, service members and veterans, the Commission stated that, over and over again, families wanted choice, access and value. Allowing them to choose a commercial health insurance plan and providing allowances for the cost of deductibles and premiums should ideally allow families more control over their health care needs. That said, this will likely come with increased individual family costs, and must be taken into account.
Additional recommendations made by the Commission are intended to strengthen support of families with more childcare and improved access to services for special needs children. We hope this intent can be realized.
Our mission at Operation Homefront is to provide emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors. Though policy matters are not our mission focus, anything that affects them is something we keep an eye on. We receive calls from transitioning service members every day, and see the challenges they face starting over. It is one of the reasons we offer and often require financial counseling as part of our emergency financial services. We encourage ideas that empower them for life after service, especially when that service ends far earlier than expected at great cost to their physical and mental health.
Our team here at Operation Homefront certainly understands and shares some of the same feelings of concern and uncertainty that our families have about the future and what, if any, changes are adopted. With the ever increasing global crises, threats and strain on readiness and families, we stand prepared to support them in any way we can so that our volunteer force in the 21st Century continues to remain, as MCRMC Chairman Alphonso Maldon, Jr. put it, “without peer.”