Thursday, March 17, 2011

No award ceremony






Aswat al-Iraq reports an IED targeted a US military patrol in Basra yesterday and quotes a security source stating, "An IED blew up against a U.S. Army Patrol on the Hamdan Road, 10 kms south of Basra on Tuesday, but caused no human or material damage." The Iraq War continues. US service members remain stationed in Iraq. They remain in danger. Barack didn't end the violence, let alone the war.
And they're looking at seeing their health care cut. Yesterday, the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcomittee met to discuss the Military Health System and the Defense Health Cost Program for the Fiscal Year 2012. Subcommittee Chair Joe Wilson observed, "The proposed TRICARE Prime fee increase for Fiscal Year 2012, while appearing to be modest, is a 13% increase over the current rate. The Dept of Defense proposes increasing the fee in the out years based on an inflation index. You suggest 6.2% but it is unclear exactly which index you are using? You plan to reduce the rate that TRIACARE pays Sole Community hospitals for inpatience care provided to our active duty, family members and retirees. Several of these hospitals are located very close to military bases -- in fact, some are right outside the front gates -- especially important for 24-hour emergency care." We'll note these statements by Maine's Chellie Pingree.
US House Rep Chellie Pingree: I just want to say again, I understand how well you are all doing your job and the importance of all of you looking for cost efficiencies in what you do as we face a difficult time with the budget deficit and, uh, also where there's a lot of examination of the military budget and looking for places where we can cut. And maybe my first comment is more to my fellow Committee members then to all of you but I might see more places to cut the fat in the military budget than others of my colleagues but I am deeply concerned that we're going after medical care for both our active duty personnel and our retirees when I think there are other places to make more effective cuts. So I know you have to do your job and look for those cuts but almost everything that's before us today, either myself or one of my colleagues has mentioned a concern about, whether it's the changes to TRICARE, how we're going to deal with some of our Sole Community Hospitals I have two in my district, there are four in our state of only 1.2 million people, in a state where we have almost a fifth of our citizens are either active duty or retired military. So there's a very big dependance on this system in our state and I'm worried about that particular program. So for me, many of the efficiencies that you're talking about are going to reduce the level of medical care to people who have served us to whom we have made a huge promise. And there is going to be a -- I think -- a reduction in the services that they receive so I just -- I know you have to do your job but I don't like it and I don't think it's all necessarily good.
That was yesterday. This morning the Subcommittee met again. We need to start with remarks by Subcommittee Chair Wilson.
Chair Joe Wilson: Yesterday, we had an extraordinary hearing with Dr. Clifford Stanley and and Dr. Jonathan Woodson and Dr. Stanley is special to me, he's a graduate of South Carolina State University, one of the great universities of South Carolina and so I really am frustrated that with their capabilities that the president has named a health -- a military health care czar, the former governor of Maine, John Baldacci. I-I -- we don't need a health care czar. We've got veterans service organizations that can provide this information. And as stewards of the tax payers -- this is not government's money, this is tax payers' money -- $164,000 plus expenses, I think, are being diverted from the military health care system.
As he notes, he hit on that yesterday. I was thinking Kat might grab that. I know Baldacci and didn't grab it for that reason. Do we need czars? No, not in this economic climate. Is Wilson correct about $164,000?
No. Because Baldacci is not answering his own phones and doing his own filing and doing -- He has a staff. He is not a 'floater,' he has office space. John Baldacci's a hard worker and a nice person. As a czar, he would no doubt do a fine job. But when everything's under attack, the first thing that needs to go are the czars -- all of them. I avoided it because of conflict of interest but I do agree with Wilson that, at a time when needed programs are being cut, the White House needs to get rid of their czars. (All their czars, which may mean my position is more extreme than Wilson's. In yesterday and today's hearings, he only referenced the military health care czar.)
Having taken care of that, we'll now address today's hearing. Ranking Member Susan Davis explained, "Today we'll hear first hand from the folks who really make the most difference here, from those who are the beneficiaries of the system and the experience that they are having with the military health care system and their thoughts on the health care proposals put forth by the Dept of Defense. As you alll know, our country is facing difficult economic times and we are now faced with making some hard decisions that will -- that could -- impact the lives of those who are currently serving and those who have served. I know that our beneficiary representatives here today understand the challenges that we face."
The Subcommittee heard from Military Officers Association of America's Steve Strobridge, Fleet Reserve Association's Joseph Barnes, National Association of Uniformed Services' Rick Jones, Retired Enlisted Association's Deidre Parke Holleman, National Military Family Association's Kthy Moakler, Reserve Officers Association's Marshall Hanson and US Family Health Plan Alliance's Mary Cooke who attempted to convery the health care needs and how what was being proposed would hurt many, many people.
As Rick Jones explained, the Department of Defense plans "to collect $450 million over the next five years from the pockets of 'working age' retirees by raising TRICARE Prime enrollment fees in the first year by 13 percent and in following years by the rate of medical inflation, which is projected by economists to run several points higher than general inflation at a minimum annual pace of 6.2 percent and as high as 10 to 14 percent over the next five years." This is on top of the Defense Dept's plan to increase the costs of co-pay for prescription drugs (for example, an additional $2 for generic drugs, an additional $3 for brand names and an additional $3 for non-formulary medications). Jones pointed out, "While it is true costs for military health care have increased over the past decade, the cause is not, repeat, not military retirees using their earned benefits. The true accelerant for risings costs is the war." Jones noted that for nearly a decade, the US has been waging two costly wars. He pointed out, rightly, that this is a betrayal of a promise, that health care is really not a 'benefit' for the military, it is part of the promise the government makes to those who serve in the military. Attempting to balance the budget on the backs of service members, veterans, retirees and their families is changing the rules once the process has already started and it's not fair.
It's also, this is me -- not Jones, disgraceful. How dare you deploy people to war zones and talk your nonsense bumper sticker b.s. about 'support' when you turn around -- and, let's be clear, "you" is the Obama administration -- and then attempt to break the government's word. It's disgraceful and it's shameful and it certainly doesn't make for a good 'recruiting tool.'

NAUS' Rick Jones called the proposal "a breach of moral contract." MOAA's Steve Strobridge called for "some statement in law, where there is none presently, that states explicitly that military health care is one of the cruical offsets to the adverse conditions of service -- that it is, in fact, an upfront and very substantial premium payment. And that would help defefeat some of these arguments that people want to devalue the service and only compare cash to cash which, to us, is an apple to orange comparison."
We'll note this exchange from the hearing.
US House Rep Niki Tsongas: Yesterday in the first of this series of hearings I said that before Congress could increase TRICARE fees for working age retirees, any proposal on the table would have to be proven to minimize impact. It would be inexcusable in my mind to deprive our retired heroes of the health benefits they have earned. I also question the disparate impact of any increases on service members who accrue less annual retirement benefits than others. As you all know, retirement benefits vary greatly depending on a number of factors such as how long a person served and whether they were decorated for extraordinary heroism. The key metric, however, is the rank they hold or held. Retired generals can earn robust, six figure sums in annual retirement benefits whereas enlisted personnel may only earn benefits in the teens. Yesterday, in the first part of this series, I asked Under Secretary Stanley and Assistant Secretary Woodson if the Department had seriously reviewed any proposals for a stepped-increase of TRICARE fees for working age retirees determined on the basis of rank at the time of retirement and retirement benefits earned? Assistant Secretary Woodson answered that the Dept did not consider this proposal because it would be difficult to administer since the Dept would want to take into consideration retirees' other streams of revenue -- a statement I do not agree with. More importantly, though, he stated it was unnecessary in this case because the fee increases that are proposed are modest. But he stated that "if we were proposing large fee increases, I would agree with you strongly." My question then, to all of you, is do you agree or disagree with Dr. Woodson's assessment? And if we could begin with you, Mr. Strobidge.
Col Steve Strobridge: Yes, in fact, the Dept did propose tier-increases previously. The military coalition has been unanimus in opposing means-testing. of military benefits. We don't have that for federal civilian health care, the presidents pays the same as the lowest SGS employee One of the concerns, I think, is creating a situation where the longer you serve and the more successful you compete for promotion, the less your benefit is. And we don't think that's a good incentive. But more and more, as I said in my earlier statement, the military benefit package is considered the off-set for the adverse conditions of service. You earn the package mainly by your service. And I-I would have to agree with the answer that was given yesterday: Once you start trying to split, basically what you're saying is, "Who can afford to do what?" And I think they were accurate. Once you start to say, "Who can afford to do what?," you have to -- you have to look at all of your income and then it ultimately drives you to looking at last year's tax return. And to us, we don't think that ought to be based on what kind of job you get as a civilian, we don't think it ought to be based what your spouse's income, or how much you inherited from a parent. Your benefit derives from your service, not from your grade.
Regarding the discussion above, it would probably be wise to ask Robert Gates -- who is spear heading the White House's attempt to gut the military benefits -- exactly what his own are. If he's proposing -- and he and the White House are -- that some veterans going into civilian life should be on civilian health care instead of on military health care, the American tax payers have a right to know which benefits Gates is receiving? Is it from his time in the 'Air Force' (Gates didn't serve in the Air Force, he was CIA already when he got his wings -- in fact, Gates is another Chicken Hawk but no one is ever supposed to point that out), it is from his time at the CIA, from his current position, from his college administration positions? If he wants to go after military benefits, he needs to open his hand before the American people and explain exactly what tax payer money he is consuming and how.
When we first started noting the Obama administration's plan to gut veterans health care, a number of angry e-mails came in insisting it would never happen. Those e-mails continued even after the May 19, 2010 Senate Veterans Affairs Committee which should have put a rest to the denials from the Cult of St. Barack. Today's hearing was attended by a number of reporters and possibly it will finally get the coverage so that everyone can see just how the administration 'rewards' those who served. And maybe all those working their pet causes with online e-activism might try paying attention to some things actually do matter. NPR and PBS -- both of whom I support -- will get along. I'm a huge abortion rights supporter. Planned Parenthood will survive with cuts. You need to stop wasting your time and your fire on these little minor things. And if you're thinking, "I didn't serve so I don't have to worry," how this fight goes down is the test-run for how the attempt to gut Social Security will go down.
Meanwhile Lara Jakes (AP) reports that the State Dept's William Brownfield, visiting Iraq, is whining that the Department budget is being gutted. The $1 billion they want for Iraq's "police and legal system" next year may not be approved, that this was "one of the oddest budget years" he'd seen (boo-hoo!) and that making cuts will jeopardize security in Iraq -- what security? First off, what gains? There are no gains, there's just the US propping up an illegitmate puppet who attacks his own people. There are no gains. And at a time when the people of the United States are being asked to give up this and give up that, it's past damn time that the Obama administration grasped they better get a little damn skin in the game as well. They can start by ending the silly functions at the White House. In this economy, it is in poor taste to entertain in the manner they have. A lack of taste doesn't excuse their inability to grasp that they need to show a little more restraint. Restraint would mean giving up your czars, your fly-in-from-Chicago trainer and much, much more. Nancy Reagan was crucified for doing much less than Michelle Obama has done (and I remember because I was one of the loudest critics of Nancy Reagan).

RECOMMENDED:"Iraq snapshot"
"She gave birth this morning, she was killed this a..."
"She gave birth this morning, she was killed this afternoon"

It didn't end"

NPR: The pity party that never ends"
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame"
The Event"
The Cape"
Once they worked overtime to sell it . . ."
He thinks he knows everything"

No comments: