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By Jim Knotts, president and CEO, Operation Homefront

No one relishes being the bearer of bad news. I knew that when the Joint Chiefs testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee a week ago today, there wasn’t going to be a lot to like about what they had to say. After listening to their testimony, I am sure as I can be that they certainly didn’t want to have to say it.

Joint Chiefs testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.-pic by Military Times

Joint Chiefs testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.-pic by Military Times

Simply put, there isn’t enough money available to do what they must do, let alone what they would like to. So, the Joint Chiefs looked at the money that will be appropriated for FY 2015 and beyond, and had some choices to make. None of them good. As Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said, “None of us like where we find ourselves today.”

Our military cannot stop defending the nation, and the world continues to be a volatile place. It is easy to calculate what you can see. Not so much for what you can’t. The world can change in an instant. Our men and women in uniform must be ready to handle what comes, or lives are lost. Already as a result of sequestration, the services have made drastic cuts, cancelling critical training and delaying the modernization of equipment. Nearly 13 years of combat operations have worn down equipment. Some of our hardware is 50 years old. The Joint Chiefs were very clear that being in this state, if continued, will put lives at risk.

So what’s left to look at? The answer, it seems, is compensation and benefits. For those of us who’ve raised our hand and taken an oath to serve our great country – we’ve done so invariably with a sense of patriotism and pride – but at the same time to earn a living and provide for our family. And while no one will argue that those serving in uniform today are overpaid, there is the undeniable fact that compensation as a whole has consumed more and more of each service branch’s budget in recent years. As Gen. Amos testified for the Marine Corps, it’s .63 cents of every dollar. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno reiterated past testimony on compensation, where he stated: “If we continue along the way that we are going now, we believe by 2023, 80 percent of our budget is going to be on compensation.”[1] For other branches, the percentages have remained steady at between 30-35 percent of their budgets, but the Chiefs noted that this percentage remained steady as they have reduced force strength.

The Chiefs advocated capping pay raises at 1 percent, reducing commissary funding, and streamlining Tricare. “We’re seeking $31 billion in savings in pay compensation and health care over the future-year defense program,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified. “If we don’t get it, we’ll have to take $31 billion out of readiness, modernization and force structure over that same period.” [2] Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Welsh testified, “If we can’t make tough calls on compensation now, we won’t be ready today or viable against the threats of tomorrow.” Gen. Dempsey also stated, “Today’s readiness problem is tomorrow’s retention problem.”

Think about it. If your work environment deteriorates to such a degree that you are not given the tools to do your job, or that your life is put at risk unnecessarily, what will you do when the time comes to make a choice to continue or look for safer and more secure career options? The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, testified, “Our sailors and families are not enthusiastic about compensation reform” [but] “are clear that quality of service –work environment — needs to improve.” He also relayed being told by his sailors that “these long deployments are killing us.” With respect to the Marines, Gen. Amos said, “We will not do with less with less, we will do the same with less.” So while no one is happy that pay and benefits will take the hit, the Chief’s testimony helped clarify why difficult choices are being made now.

There are some who agree with the Joint Chief’s assessments and recommendations, and others who don’t. I found that it was clear that they spent enormous amounts of time and energy looking for any available dollar, weighing and measuring their options, and listening to their people. Agree with their decision or not, I believe the Joint Chiefs are trying their hardest in a tough situation to be good stewards of their most valuable asset: the men and women who serve our country.

As always, Operation Homefront will do our best to help military families get through any tough times that may face them. We are grateful to the many supporters who help us fulfill our mission.

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The most priceless treasures, like a homecoming hug, are still free.

 

Download and read Tuesday’s testimony by the Joint Chiefs and MSOs/VSOs on the NDAA

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/gen-raymond-odierno-leaner-army-will-have-more-expertise/2013/07/31/1bd8e4c4-f939-11e2-b018-5b8251f0c56e_story.html

[2] http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=122193

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By Jim Knotts
President and CEO, Operation Homefront

Times are tense. Much has been said lately in regards to how the Department of Defense will balance its books, following more than 12 years of war.

How does the DoD maintain theOH blog image world’s finest fighting force, with the right investment in people and associated benefits, while equipping them with superior technology to win decisively on the battlefield?

I don’t envy the difficult choices required by our military leaders and elected officials, as the threats to our security remain real and uncertain – all at the same time. Amidst the back drop and threat of sequestration, their challenge is all the more difficult.

At no point in our nation’s history have we been on a war footing for any longer period of time, nor has that war been fought by a smaller percentage of the population. How we effectively communicate the stories and needs of this valiant 1%, to the other 99%, will prove critical for how successful we are in caring for this current generation of patriots and their families.  And there is much work ahead of us.

More than 2 million service members have deployed since 9/11. Now is not the time to turn away from the emergency needs and longer term support of this community – both active duty and veterans – that we see daily at Operation Homefront. And, it might seem that fewer deployments and a corresponding drop in combat-related injuries would reduce the need for the types of services we provide.

kenneth-walker-operation-homefront

Wounded warrior Kenneth Walker said he heard about Operation Homefront when he only had $40 left in his pocket. He moved into our wounded warrior village and lived rent-free while he got back on his feet. He just settled into a new home with his wife and children.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the needs of those we serve are greater than ever.

In 2013, we provided more than $4 million in assistance for some of the most basic needs – food, rent and utilities. That was a 263% increase over the year before. (See our impact since inception on our About Us page). And while we typically support active duty military families dealing with the associated challenges of deployments and frequent relocations, our assistance numbers show an increasing percentage of the post 9/11 veteran population needing our help as well. In fact, last year, more than 80% of our emergency assistance grants were made to wounded, ill and injured.

But we need to do more. And we need to focus more on not only helping military families get through a crisis but helping them avoid one in the first place.  In 2014, we’re shifting our focus from intervention to transformation.

Anywhere from half a million to a million service members could leave the military over the next five years. We know that the mix of programs and services we offer will continue to evolve with that growing population. And we’ve anticipated and planned for this shift.

For example, in 2012, thanks to generous bank partners JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo and Bank of America, we began our Homes on the Homefront program, providing mortgage-free homes to qualifying veterans and military families, of any era. In the first full year of the program, last year, we placed 188 families in homes, helping them save more than $41 million in mortgage payments over an average 30-year loan. Home ownership – an essential part of the American Dream – is something our nation’s veterans and their families have earned through their service, affording a transformative generational impact for decades to come.

Jim Knotts

Jim Knotts
President and CEO
Operation Homefront

We also work closely through collaborations with other nonprofits focused on improving the lives of our military families. We know that many crisis situations may be preventable through better financial education. So just a few weeks ago, we entered into a partnership with the Better Business Bureau’s Military Line, working together to extend resources to the mutual client families we serve with financial planning and budgeting resources.

As we look ahead through the balance of this year and beyond, we know that the nonprofits who support the military and veteran communities will confront similar significant issues as those faced by our government leaders. The nonprofits who endure will be those who seize the opportunity to adapt to the evolving needs of our military families and veterans. Those who succeed will do so by transforming lives, measuring the results and being agile enough to adapt as needs change.

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by Catherine McCarthy

These are the words that have come to define what is known as “Sequestration.”  And it’s a feature, not a bug.  Sequestration, part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, was intended to give a very real incentive to Congress to reduce the annual deficit by $1.2 billion by the end of 2012.  If they failed to do so, and to date they have, a very unwieldy axe was to be taken to the National Security budget.  It was meant to produce such an undesirable result that Congress would be loathe to not come up with something, anything, to prevent it from taking effect.

These automatic cuts are scheduled to occur on March 1after an 11th hour reprieve at the beginning of the year.  It was frustrating this morning to hear our local news refer to that as “next month.”  As of the writing of this blog, next month is actually next week.

This is going to hurt.

It will hurt our military families, who already shoulder a heavy burden, emotionally and financially.  Longer deployments, no ability to plan, a life of limbo, more stress.  Base services potentially cut, curtailed or eliminated, like commissaries, exchanges, Family Service Centers, gyms, etc. Many of those positions are held by military spouses, and others are employed by contractors and agencies that support our military.

With maintenance, training and equipment being sidelined, it could also cost lives.

It will hurt our veterans.  More than two out of five of the approximately 800,000 Department of Defense employees facing furloughs are veterans. Unemployment for 18-24 year old veterans was over 20 percent for 2012. Still more are employed by private industries who facilitate the readiness and capability of our armed services, and who are currently looking at their bottom line and who may be sent a layoff notice.

The impact won’t just be immediate in nature.  If, and when, we can turn it around, will the skilled workers still be there?  And in the years to come, will we experience the talent drain and beat feet that we did in the 1990s? It takes years to rebuild from that.  And a great deal of money.

It will hurt us all. Congressional Budget Office estimates sequestration would cut additional 1.4% to 2.0% off economic growth in 2013. Fourth quarter 2012 Gross Domestic Product already contracted for the first time in over 3 years on defense cuts. When people don’t have money, or jobs, they don’t spend money.

In an interview with NPR, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey is quoted, “We will weather this. The military is never going to fail to answer the call when the nation is threatened. So we will weather this, but shame on us all if we weather it at the expense of those who choose to serve in uniform.”

Yes, we will weather this.  The question is how bad is this storm going to be and how long will it take to pick up the pieces?

Addtional Info:

DoD Special Report on Sequestration

Budget Uncertainty Impact on the US Army 

Defense Leaders Brief Press on DoD Worker Furloughs 2/20/2013

DoD Details States Hit Hardest by Sequestration

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