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World-Herald editorial: Military benefits under scrutiny

World-Herald editorial: Military benefits under scrutiny

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Maintaining an all-volunteer military adequate for our national defense doesn’t just happen. It requires, among other things, that our government offer pay and benefits at a level that promotes healthy enlistment and re-enlistment.

A new study published this summer by the Strategic Studies Institute and the U.S. Army War College Press explained the need:

“Motivating individuals to volunteer for a career of selfless service, personal sacrifice, hardship, frequent household relocations and inherent danger requires a compensation program commensurate with the demands.”

Providing adequate benefits is important, too, in light of the military’s unique nature and needs. In his look at the military benefits issue, The World-Herald’s Steve Liewer noted this observation by retired Air Force Col. Mike Hayden, government relations director for the Military Officers Association of America: “(You can’t) find a replacement for a fighter pilot with 3,000 hours of flying time. You have to grow that experience base. You can’t just go out and recruit it.”

Our service personnel deserve benefits appropriate to their service in putting their lives at risk for the sake of our nation. Americans, after all, have spent more than a decade following the distressing accounts of our service personnel as they faced firefights and roadside bomb attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, with many killed and even more wounded. And our military is at the forefront of intelligence gathering vital to counterterrorism.

At the same time, there’s no reason to doubt Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel when he warns that if no changes are made at all in personnel costs for the long term, the trend “will continue to eat into readiness and modernization.”

Hagel is in the middle of a difficult and wide- ranging defense budget revamp made even more complicated by sequestration and the continuing failure of Congress to handle budgeting in a responsible, predictable manner.

Calls for attention to military personnel costs have been regularly made by the past several secretaries of defense. Similar concern was voiced in the Strategic Studies Institute report mentioned above and in a joint statement this summer by nine defense-policy think tanks from across the ideological spectrum.

Two national security analysts — one with the American Enterprise Institute and the other with the Brookings Institution — made what could be a useful distinction in a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal. Some services, they wrote, deserve continued strong support: salaries, health care for active-duty service personnel and their families, the GI Bill and services for disabled veterans.

Responsible adjustments, they said, should be considered for other areas: premium policy for the Tricare health care program; the structure of military pensions; facilities such as military commissaries; and excessive military base capacity.

Those are among the issues being discussed by a congressionally appointed, bipartisan commission on military benefits. One of the nine members is former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.

The proper course on this issue is to make responsible, balanced choices. One guidepost is maintaining readiness and modernization.

But just as vital is making sure we keep the pay and benefits at a sensible level. Such incentives make our all-volunteer military possible and properly compensate our service personnel for their sacrifices.

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