Friday, November 25, 2011

Carving Up the Promise

Those who are offended by political statements should stop reading here and go to a more comfortable place in cyberspace.  What I am going to discuss is political and may offend some readers.

As a Life Member of the Military Officers Association of America, I keep up to date on military issues through the organization's monthly magazine and its website.  In the December 2011 issue of Military Officer, one will find an article titled "Et Tu, SASC?  This headline caught my attention immediately, being that I have long been a student of Roman history.  It is a play on the last words of Julius Caesar as he was assassinated at the Roman Senate on the Ides of March, 44 BC, "Et tu Brute" or "you too Brutus?".  It was a statement that would become immortal as a synonym for betrayal as Brutus thrust his dagger into the withering body of Caesar.  Why would the MOAA head their discussion of military health issues with such a graphic and volatile reference?  Perhaps because the situation demanded it.

The managers of our trust, the government of the United States of America, have failed pitifully and have squandered the tremendous gift that "the greatest generation" gave to us — a nation virtually independent of foreign influence.  Today, we are becoming mere pawns on the world stage being sucked dry of our vastly accumulated wealth through a sea of errant thinking and mismanagement.  We have become a reactive nation rather than a noble leader in virtually all areas other than military.  We still possess the most effective fighting force the world has ever seen—what a shame that our diplomatic and economic skills are not up to that level.  The former Captains of Industry are seen as plunderers in the New World Order and it's a blessing to them that they all died long ago.  Most of their profit making ventures have been driven offshore by a national mentality where consumption trumps production, legitimate profit is assailed as social corruption and incentives to work are replaced by incentives not to work.  Those of us still dealing in Horatio Alger fashion with the idiocy of life simply get to stand by and watch our legacy vanish through self indulgence in the name of egalitarianism.

The socialistic largesse of government has buried us so far in debt that the wolves are at the door baying for lunch, and that is what the MOAA article is all about.  It is a synopsis of Washington infighting over the military budget and nothing is so sacred these days as to escape being offered as a sacrificial cow to the gods of finance.  One of the most sacred promises that the U.S. Government made to all career military personnel was a retirement system that promised health care for life.  There were no caveates or warnings that this was a tentative offer, it was an outright promise that the sort of health care that we received while on active duty would be provided for us in our retirement years.  Now, the Senate Armed Services Committee is playing the part of Brutus, standing in the Senate hall with a dagger about to draw blood from an old friend and indeed its mentor.  The committee is recommending that the military retirement system should be more like civilian retirement plans—in particular concerning healthcare.  Of course everyone knows what great shape the civilian retirement health care plans are in.

That train wreck notwithstanding, it might seem that this would be an improvement over the current Tri-Care system.  Tri-Care is so pathetic in its ratio of approved payments versus billed services that a frightening number of health care providers will not accept Tri-Care patients.  For those living in rural America, the nearest provider that accepts Tri-Care may be hours away from where one lives and choice is a pipe dream.  One is lucky to have coverage at all.  I actually wrote to one of my Senators about this problem and it was forwarded to the Pentagon's chief of health care services.  Springfield, Missouri is the nearest large city to our home (90 miles) and there are three major hospitals there.  All three have rejected Tri-Care coverage.  The letter I received in reply from the Pentagon was a curt admonition to stop complaining.  No great surprise I suppose.

Unfortunately, the net result of the Senate committee recommendation would be added cost to the military member and a further erosion of the promise.  It gets even worse when a retired military member turns 65.   Part of my military retirement package was medical care for life for myself and for my spouse during my lifetime.  The provider was "Tri-Care".  Over time, the government added a provision that when a retiree turns 65, the primary provider shifts from Tri-Care to Medicare.  That didn't seem so bad, since the coverage was similar, but they also started deducting nearly $100 per month from my Social Security check to pay for the Medicare premium.  So much for the free medical promise.  Now, they are raising the per month fee over the next couple years to some uncertain level (but certainly more).  While the actual premium that will be paid in 2014 is a matter of debate, and will undoubtedly be less than the $247 claimed by ultra-conservatives, there is little doubt that I will be paying more per year for my "free" medical coverage and we will soon have to pay double that per year to retain coverage on my spouse who currently is free under my retirement plan.  And, we have no choice in the matter -- the switch from Tri-Care to Medicare is mandatory.  That, in my estimation, is a broken promise.  This may seem like sour grapes, but all the years that I served in the military they factored in my retirement health care benefit as a part of my total compensation and paid me less because of it.  In other words, they treated it like cash in my pocket.  Now they are stealing the cash that I worked for and banked as retirement compensation. 

As military retirees were nostalgically carving Turkey this week in Thanksgiving, our elected officials were busy carving up the promises made decades ago.  In that light, how can any of us really have faith in the promises made today?