Letter to the Editor: National Defense Authorization Act, if passed, will greatly increase insurance costs for military retirees

The 2018 defense budget, also known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), if passed, will greatly increase health care insurance (Tricare) costs for military retirees. If this passes, all military personnel currently serving will become subject to these fee increases upon retirement, and those already retired will immediately become subject to the fee increases. These increases will cost working-age retirees hundreds of dollars a month more in fees. Vulnerable people, including medically-retired service members and their families, and survivors of those who died on active duty or were killed in action, will also be required to pay the increased fees.

Under the proposed budget, the current Tricare standard enrollment fee will TRIPLE. The annual catastrophic cap (out of pocket expense) will increase by 17%. The proposed budget does not include reasonable pharmacy co-pays. Instead of pharmacy fee increases being tied to annual cost-of-living adjustment, they will instead be tied to the National Health Expenditure (NHE) index, resulting in a 300% increase over the next ten years. Premium co-pays, deductibles and catastrophic caps for beneficiaries younger than 65 will dramatically increase annually, based on increases in health care costs measured by the growth in the NHE.

The Government’s reason for doing this to our service members and retirees is for cost savings for the government, not for the benefit of service members and retirees. They also cite growing healthcare costs as a reason for making these drastic increases. They also plan on removing anyone already previously grandfathered in order to put money back into military readiness. Congress must find a different way to fund readiness, and reject any proposal that increases Tricare fees for current beneficiaries. Congress needs to cut the billions of dollars that we give to foreign nations, many of which hate us, and invest that money in our service members and retirees, and veterans’ programs in general. Congress could also greatly trim the billions that are wasted to welfare scammers, and given to illegal immigrants.

How does this nation recruit and retain a professional, all-volunteer force when it does not keep its promises to previous generations of warriors? Promises that included a modest retirement pay and affordable, accessible health care. Year after year Congress chips away at these earned benefits. Enough is enough! As veterans, we have paid for our benefits through our blood, sweat and tears many times over. There is a debt owed to military retirees for their sacrifices and hardships endured in honorable service to the nation. The proposed budget is unfitting and out of line with military retirees unique sacrifices. Military health care and retirement benefits must be much better than civilian benefits because of decades of extraordinary grueling service conditions. Military retirees’ careers involve conditions that many people would not be willing or capable of enduring for 20 or 30 years. Decades of service which may include combat, hazardous duty, service in foreign countries which are often hostile environments, and long periods away from family.

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Current national fiscal problems dictate that financial concessions may have to be made, but to unfairly burden military retiree families further is not fair or just. And to think that they want to do this while we have troops fighting and dying! If you’re one of those people who points to the disparity in cost between civilian and military health insurance, you simply do not appreciate the huge premiums already paid by the selfless service and sacrifices of service members and their families. The current budget proposal (NDAA) is a huge erosion of the EARNED BENEFITS from a thankful country for honorable military service. I urge you to contact your elected officials in Congress, and the President, immediately, and strongly recommend that they block the current budget proposal.

— MSG (Retired) Craig Kleinsmith Hamburg