While Troops Struggle with Pay Cuts, Members of Congress Want Higher Salaries

Service generals and former acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox testified before a Senate panel in February that military members were ok with the proposed budget cuts to pay and benefits in favor of increasing training and outfitting expenditures. But according to a new survey from Military.com, the general consensus among the troops is that these so-called leaders are way out of touch, and that they are being less than honest with Congress and the American people about how the rank-and-file members are responding to the proposed cuts.

Testifying before Congress in February, Fox told members of the panel, “Our men and women are the first to say that they’re well-compensated but the department doesn’t have money to maintain their equipment or supply them with the latest technology, or send them to get the training they need.”

However, this statement is a blatant lie. According to the survey, 90 percent said they do not favor the proposed pay cuts.

Both the Senate and the House’s Armed Services Committees met this week to try and hammer out the final language of the 2015 defense bill. In previous sessions, Fox and other defense leaders were asked to provide survey data from service members supporting their claims that the force wants to give up pay in favor of training and technology. To date, that data has never materialized. Instead unreliable stories from Fox and other military brass is all the committees have received.

The House did vote on a budget that keeps troop pay and benefits intact in the coming year, choosing to ignore the apocalyptic warnings that doing so would hurt readiness, but it has little chance of passing in the Senate.

In testimony last month, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Michael Barrett toed the administration’s line by telling Congress that Navy and Marine Corps members couldn’t care less about the pay cuts — something that raised the ire of many sailors and marines. But according to the survey, the Sgt. Maj. is dead wrong.

An overwhelming 96 percent of those who responded to the survey disagreed — some vehemently — with Barrett’s comments.

One sailor, Petty Officer First Class Chris Martin, told Military.com:

“I can assure him that everybody in uniform that has any thought in their mind about staying for the long haul is concerned and it does worry us and it does add more stress to our plate. When people in the Pentagon start making decisions for us without consulting us or even think that we’re not aware of the problem, it’s slightly offensive.”

Due to troop backlash, Barrett has since tried to distance himself from those remarks.

Another area of concern is the cuts to commissary funding. The commissary — the military’s grocery stores — provides food at or just above cost to military members. Many military spouses spend hours clipping coupons in preparation for a shopping trip to the commissary, just to stretch their dollars further, but cutting commissary funding would mean a significant increase in prices.

According to the Military.com survey, 81 percent of service members polled are concerned about commissary cuts. What is unique about this situation is that the majority of commissary shoppers are the enlisted ranks — those who bring home the least money.

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA)’s website states:

“Shoppers save an average of more than 30 percent on their purchases compared to commercial prices – savings worth approximately $4,500 annually for a family of four.”

The website goes on to say that they are a vital part of the military compensation package and crucial for recruiting and retention of America’s best and brightest.

In addition, due to the stripping of food stamp funding from the massive Farm Bill passed last year, some 5,000 military members who depend on food stamps no longer have them, according to the DoD. While 5,000 families doesn’t seem like a lot when one considers that there are 48 million families receiving benefits, to those families losing benefits, it’s dire. According to commissary statistics, food stamp usage is at an all-time high and rising fast.

So those in the lowest ranks, who need the most help, are going to be hit even harder.

The final area that respondents were polled on was the proposed health care consolidation of Tricare, the military’s health insurance program. Of those polled, 77 percent said they opposed the changes which would result in higher out-of-pocket costs for military dependents and retirees. The defense department says that the consolidation would offer more choices to beneficiaries, but 3 out of 4 troops aren’t buying it.

Katheryn Salcido, a Marine Corps wife and mother of three, told Military.com she opposes the Tricare changes because her family is in debt due to significant medical expenses and they rely on their current plan to make ends meet.

Salcido said her family is preparing to transfer to a new duty station in the Washington, D.C. area with its higher cost of living, and she is concerned that it will cause a further financial burden for the family.

“I honestly don’t know how we are going to survive,” she said. “I’m already checking into the food banks.”

According to Mike Barron, deputy director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America and a retired Army colonel, this is what the association is hearing from military members and veterans ad nauseam.

The association estimates that the Pentagon’s pay and benefits proposals would mean a loss of almost $5,000 annually for the average E-5 with 10 years of service and a family of four. That includes a loss of about $2,970 in commissary benefits, $1,224 in basic allowance for housing (BAH), $593 in base pay, and $206 in Tricare benefits.

In the meantime, social media erupted when news broke that members of Congress introduced a bill last month to give themselves a pay raise because they can’t live decently in Washington.

“I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” Virginia Democratic Rep. James Moran told MSNBC.

Members of Congress are paid $174,000 annually plus expenses, and more than half were not paupers to begin with. Perhaps the way to avoid further squeezing military families is to put the squeeze on Congress. If they experience some of what military families do, maybe they’d be more motivated to work toward a solution instead of worrying about partisan politics.

Photo retrieved from militarypay.org