Military Retiree Benefits: Due for a Trim?

Military retirement and medical benefits could wind up on the chopping block.

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    PANMUNJOM, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 18 : A U.S. soldier look at the North Korean soldiers use news photographer's camera at the border village of Panmunjom, north of Seoul South Korea June 18 2003. Amid fresh war threats from North Korea, Secretary of State Colin Powell praised the way other nations have withheld economic aid from that country so long as it continues to develop nuclear weapons. photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

    Military retirement and medical benefits virtually have been sacred cows in our society.

    But given the spiraling national debt, they could wind up on the chopping block.

    Military Retirement Benefits on Chopping Block

    [DGO] Military Retirement Benefits on Chopping Block
    Budget cuts are forcing the Pentagon to think about cutting benefits. (Published Monday, Nov 7, 2011)

    With the Pentagon's annual budget having doubled since "9/11," the Defense Department's marching orders are to cut it back by 60 percent over the next 10 years.

    Under consideration as targets are weapons, personnel and the costs of maintaining them.

    Though San Diego, the world's largest military-industrial complex, is seen as fairly well insulated against infrastructure cuts, there are concerns about the human side of the equation.

    Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has told the New York Times he's looking to raise co-pay fees for Tricare, the military's guaranteed, lifetime health coverage plan for retiress and their families.

    The unspecified hikes would be phased in over several years, and apply to current active-duty troops upon their retirement.

    Right now the co-pays run about $40 a month.

    It's also not clear what kind of reductions are being weighed in retirement benefits, now 50 percent of final base pay after 20 years of service.

    Critics say for new service members "going forward", a more costly, less generous retirement landscape could hurt recruiting, career retention, and local economies.

    "I don't want to further go down the road of the U.S. government basically creating a bit of a bait-and-switch scenario with the folks who put so much into protecting our country and making sure that we're a strong nation."

    Military health costs have risen from 5 percent to 10 percent of the Pentagon's budget over the past decade.

    But Webster says there are other parts of the federal budget "that could really be trimmed, could really be cut without the kind of pain that would be caused to our service men and women -- and also specifically to San Diego and our local economy."

    Richard Prantil, a San Diego attorney who represents military personnel, veterans and their families in his practice, says retirement benefit cuts and higher health care fees would be "catastrophic ... they're barely making it. And we want to cut their benefits? The people in Washington, let's cut their gbenefits and let them pay for it."

    Says downtown resident Bill Ciaramitaro, an Army veteran: "When we were in, it was all patriotism. You talk to the kids today, it's 'What are you going to get out if it?' School and money. So if they cut that, you'll get less people joining the military."

    Meantime, another Pentagon budget-cutting possibility that's 'on the table' is another round of "BRAC" -- the Base Realignment and Closure" process.

    Local military and industrial experts say it's more likely that San Diego would see further realignment of other functions here than closures.