I don’t normally delve into politics too deeply (at least publicly) when I’m on a deployment. In my opinion, harsh criticism of leadership is counter-productive in an environment where we need to be unified, sharply honed and focused to the task at hand. Throwing accusations and castigating remarks at the “powers that be” can confuse a soldier, and often, cause them to lose faith in their leadership and (ultimately) their purpose and themselves.
However, there has recently (within the past month) been an issue that rose to the surface of media attention for a short time, faded into obscurity, then (recently) resurfaced within the past few days. I feel it is important to bring this topic to your attention and give it the focus it deserves. I’m talking about Military Retirement and Veteran’s Benefit Plans.
For generations, our military has answered the call to defend and preserve freedom and liberty from all manner of threats. Millions have perished in the pursuit of this cause and millions more, still to this day, place themselves in harm’s way for no other reason than the fact that their country called them to do so.
Today, Military Service Members (on active duty) have a retirement plan that pays one-half of their current salary after the service member has completed 20 years of active service. This is a benefit that has been in place for decades and one of the major incentives for persons who pursue a 20+ year career.
Reservists and National Guard Members (currently) have a retirement plan based upon a “point system” that calculates time-in-service, pay-grade and age. Basically, these service members accumulate “points” that are counted towards “years in service” (e.g. 360 points = 1 year, 7200 points = 20 years).
It would seem that (certain members of) the leadership of the very Nation we serve is now considering legislation to obliterate the paltry sum of money we are promised for our service, and institute another “program” that, in all seriousness, causes serious doubt and concern among veterans.
In a recent (joint) interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta confirmed that the Pentagon is considering a drastic plan to do away with our current (promised) 20-year retirement plan, and implement a revised, GOVERNMENT CONTROLLED “401k” style plan. This topic recently resurfaced in the newly unveiled deficit-reduction plan released by the White House.
Now, I mean no offense to anyone out there with a 401k. I too, have one from my time I spent employed at American Airlines (well… what little of it remains after the last 3 years of stock debacle). However, when I hired in to American, I knew UP FRONT what my retirement options were and I chose to participate. Not to mention, I had FULL CONTROL of the money in my 401k savings plan; American Airlines couldn’t touch it. This new plan the White House is proposing, if implemented, will essentially break all faith with the current ranks. If you have any doubt, look at what happened to our “Social Security” system.
The average enlisted soldier doesn’t have a “golden parachute” to look forward to. Heck, Military service or not, most of us don’t. Even the average Officer (who makes considerably more than an enlisted man) is in the same boat. We work hard, serve our employer; we sign an employment agreement/contract and we BOTH are expected to hold our (respective) ends of the bargain. It would seem that (in the military’s case) someone has decided that our contractual agreement is now “subject to change” because our government simply cannot “afford” to keep their end of the deal. Apparently, we “cost” too much.
Let’s explore that. We (the military) make up less than 1% (.794% to be almost exact) of the population. That’s a pretty remarkable thing when you think about it. Less than 1% of the ENTIRE United States population takes the oath and defends her. In case you’re wondering, that’s about 2,475,967 service members (combined) across all the branches of our military (To put it in perspective, roughly 16 Million men and women served during WWII – meaning we’re only 15% of what we once were).
The overall total number of living veterans (both prior service and currently still in service) is approximately 22 million. That’s roughly 7% of the total population. Of that 22 million, approximately 9,800,000 receive pensions and benefits ( I break it all down later). That’s [roughly] 3.14% of the U.S. (veteran) population that receive pensions and benefits.
Now… I think we can all agree that the percentages are small. However, the “powers that be” don’t highlight this fact. They choose to highlight dollar figures that will (appear to) justify their logic in dissolving Veteran’s Benefits. For example, it’s no secret that the average total amount of federal government spending for veteran’s benefits programs is approximately $95.6 Billion. HOLY $H!!ZZA!!! That seems like a staggering amount!! But wait… it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do simple math.
Let’s work it out. Take 95.6 Billion and Divide it by 9.8 Million. That works itself out to be approximately $9,755.10 per veteran / year (averaged). That’s it? Yep. That’s it. Uhhhh wait.. no. That’s not “it”. There’s More… well.. Actually less....
Of that 95.6 Billion, $44.7 billion went to compensation and pensions (taxable income), $43.4 billion for medical programs and the remainder to other programs, such as vocational rehabilitation and education. In other words, it’s not like this astronomical figure ($95.6 Billion) went directly into the pockets of veterans. A large percentage of this money is taxable… which means a portion of it went BACK to the government. Furthermore, the remaining money was used to pay doctors and medical professionals for their services to vets, and finally, what little is left is spent to pay teachers and vocational instructors. In summary… a HUGE percentage of this money is invested back into communities by paying for goods and services that veterans NEED. Veteran’s actually “pocket” a very small sum of this money. However, If you were to listen to the spin some proponents of the “benefit overhaul”, you’d think we were all out buying small private islands to retire on. HEY! Not a bad idea… I’ll get to that later.
Now I’ll try to break it down further. It’s not fair to assume that EVERY Veteran gets a piece of this ($95.6 Billion) pie. Many do not. Some veterans do their initial tour or two in the military and choose to get out pursuing other vocational and professional interests. Many of them never even claim a benefit (although they are entitled). There are approximately 9.8 million people who make up this crowd.
Approximately another 9 million veterans are over the age of 65 (retired) and enjoying the remaining golden years of their lives (presumably on their “private islands”, right?)
That leaves us with approximately 3.2 Million veterans. Roughly 2.4 Million + serving in uniform, the remainder (maybe 800,000 or so), are under age 65, retired; medically disabled, or simply hanging out on their “private island” somewhere off the radar.
Now I’ve thrown a lot of numbers at you but what I’m trying to illustrate to you is how incredible SMALL the numbers really are when you break it down into manageable pieces. Now, let’s compare this to other expenditures our fine government has seen fit to “invest in”.
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