Are Health-Care Costs Crippling America's Military?

Like much of America, the top brass in our U.S. military are getting sick of rising costs. High-profile figures such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have specifically identified the ever-increasing price of health insurance and pensions as detrimental to the military's operations--they drain more than $50 billion in next year's proposed budget, NPR reports. One point of contention is the military's special healthcare program called Tricare, for which an armed service member's family only has to pay $460 a year. Gates and others have attempted to raise the annual cost to $520 but typically encounter strong resistance from many soldiers and veterans. Officials have debated the growing problem for years yet never manage to get any traction due to this tremendous military opposition, which even includes hate mail:

Retired Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro gets a lot of hate mail, because he's talking about something a whole lot of people don't want to hear about: the rising costs of military health and pension benefits.

"We in the Department of Defense are on the same path that General Motors found itself on," he says.

Punaro, a former Marine, is a member of the Defense Business Board, a group that advises the Pentagon on its financial operations.

"General Motors did not start out to be a health care company that occasionally built an automobile," he says. "Today, we're on the path in the Department of Defense to turn it into a benefits company that may occasionally kill a terrorist."

And Punaro is not alone. Secretary Gates sees the problem, too. He flagged it in March, during testimony to a congressional budget panel.

"The Defense Department runs the risk of the fate of other corporate and government bureaucracies that were ultimately crippled by personnel costs," he said, "in particular, their retiree benefit packages."

Here's what Gates was talking about: In the past decade, military health care costs more than doubled. They account for $52.5 billion in next year's proposed budget. Retirees' pay represents another $50 billion or so a year.

Read the full story at NPR.

Presented by

John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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