David Wood wrote an article earlier this year for Huffington Post, titled Defense Budget Faces Cuts To Personnel After Decade of War. He begins with “For more than a decade, Congress and the Pentagon have lavished money on the nation’s 1.3 million active-duty troops and their families. Salaries and benefits soared far above civilian compensation, military bases and housing were refurbished, support services like day care, family counseling and on-base college courses were expanded.”
Look, there is no denying that our economy is a mess. Playing the blame game is just a distraction from the dire situation that very few of our government representatives, if any, truly understand. However, I would just like to clarify some misleading points made by Mr. Wood in his article. This does not mean that I think our Department of Defense budget doesn’t need reform, nor does it mean that I am not in support of military and other government cuts. But I believe my experience as a military spouse has offered me insight that Mr. Wood could have benefited from in his article.
Your Bathtub is Just Porcelain? Ha. Mine is Plated in Gold.
For example, please note that the money Congress and the Pentagon has so-called lavished upon active duty families has not resulted in the majority of us living lavish lifestyles beyond our civilian counterparts. While the highest of ranking Generals typically have amenities such as personal chefs and housekeepers, this is not representative of the military as a whole. At all. Mr. Wood references daycare without mentioning that we still pay for such service on a sliding scale according to income – no different than other non-military government-funded childcare programs. Now some military families with a deployed service-member may qualify for 4 to 6 hours of free childcare per month but this is not what many would consider a lavish luxury.
“You Get a House! You Get a House! And You Get a House!
Mr. Wood also remarks about military housing renovations and new construction. What he fails to mention is that the majority of renovated housing did not meet current housing standards prior to said renovations. Additionally, the amount of new military housing construction doesn’t even begin to meet the needs of the military, which results in off-post housing privileges and the basic allowance for housing (BAH). And let’s not even discuss in detail the horrific amounts of asbestos being discovered in military office buildings, housing, and other dwellings in need of renovation – perhaps Mr. Wood would rather the government spend money on settling mesothelioma lawsuits instead?
Mr. Wood states, “Currently, the Pentagon pays all housing costs for families who live off base.” No, Mr. Wood. That is incorrect. The Pentagon gives us a housing allowance and it is on us to budget the money accordingly. However, if Mr. Wood is implying that the Pentagon is willing to cover our rent, renters insurance, electric bill, gas bill, water bill, and other miscellaneous fees, I would greatly appreciate it if Mr. Wood (or any of his obviously many fact checkers) could pass along the contact information for the Pentagon representative you consulted for this article. Thank you!
Mental Health Services
Let’s move on the family counseling. Yes, the Department of Defense created Military One Source as a service to families and one of the programs available is counseling. It is important to understand that such programs were created to address issues that arose as a direct result of fighting a two-front war for multiple years. Suicide rates among Army soldiers is up 80% and last year, the Huffington Post even featured an article that urged the United States to stand up against military suicides. It is no secret that the mishandling of our Vietnam veterans help contribute to the mental health crisis that exists in our country today. We’ve vowed not to make the same mistake with our current batch of combat veterans. Mr. Wood may consider providing free or discounted counseling services to combat veterans and their families as lavish, but I consider it necessary. After all, from a pure economic perspective, doesn’t it make more sense to provide mental health services to combat veterans now, rather than later deal with the costs associated with ignoring the problem?
Money, Money, Money
The article also provides numbers in regards to pay. In full disclosure, my husband is a field-grade officer. His paycheck ensures we live a comfortable lifestyle that is on par with our middle-class counterparts. We both have endured undergraduate and graduate school. Like our civilian counterparts with similar education levels, we squirrel away money toward our individual retirement accounts, we save up for vacations, contribute to college funds, and we even use a 20% off coupon when we visit Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We’re not rich because of the military.
There are some gross errors in the calculations provided by Mr. Wood regarding military pay. For example, he writes that the average officer pay is $94,700 in basic pay and housing. It is important to note that Mr. Wood is counting all officer ranks in his calculation, including Generals. So of course, the pay is going to be elevated. It would be no different than including the CEO, CFO, Senior VPs, etc… into the low, mid, and high-level management salaries of a private sector company. Furthermore, BAH is determined by location. A service member stationed in Oklahoma is going to receive less money for housing than a service member of the same rank stationed in New York City. Therefore, factoring BAH into average military pay will likely distort the true answer.
I understand that some people may take issue with the amount of money the military is paid. Just as tax dollars are used to pay Congress and other government officials, military pay (freely available online for the public to lookup) is subject to scrutiny from tax payers. Any military family will tell you that it is not a lifestyle one chooses to become rich. If our ultimate goal was to make as much money as we could, my husband would have left the Army as soon as his initial commitment was up. The hours are long, the separations are brutal, and the constant moving around often causes the spouse’s career to take a backseat, resulting in a diminished earning potential. Personally, I believe my husband is adequately compensated for the responsibilities and pressures associated with his job, especially when free healthcare and retirement benefits are factored in. But please do not confuse adequate compensation with the two of us throwing money in the air while cackling at the notion of taxpayers funding our lavish lifestyle.
- Mr. Wood writes, “A brigadier (one-star) general at Fort Drum, with 16 years of service, is earning $131,652 a year plus a housing allowance of $2,247 per month.” Seriously?!? Mr. Wood, if you can introduce me to an active Brigadier General with only 16 years of service (i.e. not a Civil War General), I will eat a combat boot of my husband’s from his last deployment to Afghanistan.
- Mr. Wood states, “Other benefits include shopping at on-base commissaries, which typically save military shoppers about 30 percent on groceries.” Ha. I’d like to see those numbers, Mr. Wood. Sadly, there are no such sources linked or referenced.
Reform is Necessary
It is obvious that our Defense budget is not sustainable. Tough decisions lie ahead. Military cuts are inevitable. My purpose for this blog post was to clarify the misrepresentations within the said article. I gladly encourage discussion about military healthcare reform, retirement benefit reform, and a plethora of other topics surrounding the national budget crisis we’re facing. But I refuse to do so with gross misrepresentations of a lifestyle that Mr. Wood clearly does not understand.
Note: I appreciate all of the responses. Today, I wrote a little more on the subject. Also, check out Sequester and the Military Family by Bridget and The Most Lavish Benefit of All by Jill. Thank you for reading!
March 14th UPDATE – For those interested in commenting and contributing to the conversation, I request that you refrain from engaging in personal attacks against other commenters and referring to people (including our POTUS, David Woods, Democrats, Republicans, Federalists, Libertarians, Whigs, etc…) as idiots or other derogatory terms.