The Unsustainable Fiscal ‘Crisis’ of the Military’s Bloated Benefits


The Pentagon is planning cuts to the defense budget that are causing controversy on Capitol Hill, the New York Times reports.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to shrink the United States Army to its smallest force since before the World War II buildup and eliminate an entire class of Air Force attack jets in a new spending proposal that officials describe as the first Pentagon budget to aggressively push the military off the war footing adopted after the terror attacks of 2001.

…The proposals are certain to face resistance from interest groups like veterans’ organizations, which oppose efforts to rein in personnel costs; arms manufacturers that want to reverse weapons cuts; and some members of Congress who will seek to block base closings in their districts.

Such proposals always get the defense industry lobbyists on Capitol Hill reeling. The notion that big corporations manufacturing death machines will stop getting paid exorbitant amounts of taxpayer cash for weapons systems that military officials say they don’t even want or need is appalling to them, parasites that they are.

But, according to an NPR report this morning, “the part of the Pentagon’s plan that might get the sharpest reaction is the military’s suggestions for ways to reduce the growth in spending on pay and benefits.”

…Pentagon officials warn that those costs “are eating us alive.” The average annual cost of pay and benefits for each active duty member of the military, for instance, has risen from about $54,000 a decade ago to $110,000 now, he said. The costs of health insurance and other benefits for retirees are also soaring.

The bloated salaries and benefits for the military, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, “will become a crisis.” One official told NPR that the Pentagon is essentially becoming “a benefits organization that occasionally kills a terrorist.”

In a 2012 piece for Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks – whose husband is a career Army officer – lamented America’s “socialist military” and criticized the fact that “the average member of the military is paid better than 75 percent of civilian federal workers with comparable experience.” Members of the military and their families, she wrote, get “America’s most generous” and “arguably unsustainable” benefits programs.

As the spouse of a career Army officer, I’m stunned by the range of available benefits. Health care? Free! Groceries? Military commissaries save military families roughly 30 percent over shopping in civilian stores. Education benefits? Career personnel can expect the military to finance additional higher education, and the post-9/11 GI Bill provides up to 36 months of benefits to veterans, amounting, in effect, to full tuition and fees for four academic years. (The education benefit is also transferable to dependents.)

Housing? Free on base and subsidized off-base (the housing allowance goes up with family size: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need). Pensions? After 20 years of service, military personnel can retire and immediately begin to receive, at the ripe old age of 40 or so, an annual pension equal to half their salary — for the rest of their lives. Anyone who thinks socialism failed in America has never spent time on a military base.

Cutting expensive and unnecessary weapons systems cuts to the heart of the nuts and bolts of rent-seeking politics in Washington. But cutting veterans benefits becomes an emotional issue for people, and thus may be very difficult to get past Congress.

These benefits are inordinate, unfair, and unsustainable. Military service is endlessly praised as the ultimate sacrifice for the country. But when you strip away the propagandistic state doctrine, military service is simply a commitment to kill strangers on the orders of politicians in Washington. I can’t for the life of me figure out why that deserves such disproportionate financial benefits.

13 thoughts on “The Unsustainable Fiscal ‘Crisis’ of the Military’s Bloated Benefits”

  1. Nato just spent 1.5 billion dollars to build itself a new headquarters. 23 years after the Warsaw pact dissolved, its only conceivable opponent.

  2. This is mostly true regarding the obscene amounts we pay to fund our out of control military adventurism. But I am concerned about any cuts to the already-underfunded National Guard, which has struggled to assist in so many domestic incidents, from Katrina to California wildfires to the flooding in Colorado. If anything, the Guard needs drastically more money.

    1. The National Guard IS the US Army–it says so right on their uniforms. Otherwise it would say State Guard or Militia, like it previously was. Despite the propaganda, the Weekend Warriors essentially are a federal force under nominal State control according to the National Guard Act of 1916. In other words, just more ZOGbots we don't need. The legitimate Constitutional defense force of a State is the organized and unorganized (2nd Amendment) militia, and NO Federal standing army, except in wartime–I mean against an actual direct threat to the nation, not these phony banker-created wars the government has been waging since the 19th century, including both World Wars. No, eliminate the damn "National" Guard, not give it more money.

  3. As an Army private in 1971, I received $150/month. With the end of the draft in 1972, pay more than doubled. Going from a citizen-soldier military to a mercenary one has been disastrous, both economically and militarily (as there is no longer a draft to check unwarranted and illegal wars of aggression). Anyone who puts in 20 years and retires at age 38 can potentially not have to work again in his life. Not a bad deal unless you were one of the unlucky ones who were killed or didn't make it back home in one piece.

    1. Roman legionnaires got the same thing 2000 years ago and like you said, not a bad deal for 20 years of murdering, raping, plundering and destroying for the State. Although I am opposed to a military draft, or a standing army for that matter, one positive thing it did was kill off a good many sociopathic and psychopathic individuals through occasional wars who otherwise would have come back and terrorized their respective societies. This isn't the case today with an all-volunteer force of zionist mercenaries who come back home and become cops and the like who are channeling their aggressive and psychopathic tendencies on us.

      1. Werner – Regarding the draft, you said "one positive thing it did was kill off a good many sociopathic and psychopathic individuals." Gimme a break! What the draft did was force middle and even upper class kids to serve in the military, therefore, the whole society was invested, not just the bottom 5% today. These kids were often college graduates who would go on to professional careers. In an ideal world, I would oppose the draft, or even a standing army. But the world is far from ideal and the US is an Empire that needs constant war to feed the MIC. Without a draft, we wind up in endless wars that only a compulsory draft could apply a brake to. Massive protests at home, mostly brought about by the draft, finally ended the Vietnam nightmare. The lessons of that era have been lost.

  4. Joining the Marine Corps in 1953 I received $87 a month. As a buck Sgt it went up to about $200. But I did go to college on the GI bill.

  5. Our MIC is our economy – it is our only economy. Other than financial crime on Wall Street. We don't manufacture much, we don't build many roads, we don't even want to educate ourselves (not if it costs us money). All this country wants to do is to play DEF CON video games and worship some HooRah bs that we get from some Budweiser commercial.
    We are stuck with militarism. We can't cut manning levels – what will these people without constructive skills do for a living? We are stuck in a bubble of ridiculous military glory on express elevator going down. We are not pioneering this – lots of other empires ruined themselves with military glory – the Athenians with their Peloponesean Wars, Rome with their "need" for a German front, etc. Europe committed suicide with WWI, we are doing it with the War on Terror.

  6. The article suggests and even my relatives believe that, as a retired military officer, I'm wealthy. I would like to clarify that "retired" pay for a lieutenant colonel after 20-years is not a living wage and a family cannot live on it. Retirement is 50% of base pay, but over the years the percent of base pay as an element of military compensation has progressively decreased. Consider retirement as an income subsidy. Throughout my military career, we were told that 12% of our pay was being withheld by Congress to pay for retirement. That didn't show up in any budget numbers, but it was a reality in comparing our compensation with that of our civilian counterparts. Consider retirement an "off budget" 401K for the military that we pay into for 20 years. Unless a senior officer, base housing for the military is almost universally substandard housing. It is something to be avoided when you can. Then, there is military discipline. Consider having a job for 20 years where every third year you are forced to spend away from your family in some godforsaken hole somewhere in the world. No, you can't turn down the assignment … and no, you don't get the tax benefits or additional compensation shared by civilians in similar circumstances. I won't even address the issue of combat. Finally, many retired military cannot find decent jobs after retirement BECAUSE of their experience. I've known many retired military, including senior officers, who end up salesmen in furniture stores and the like because there is not a thriving market for retired colonels of infantry. And when "retired", you are still in the military. My retirement orders said, "Retired subject to recall." If there is one precious military benefit, it is TriCare, post retirement medical care. I can only hope that this becomes the model for universal medical care in the United States. I won't address the argument of the aggregate impact of military benefits on the Pentagon's budget and Federal budgets, but I do have a solution. Stop fighting imperial wars! The United States has been in a permanent state of war for the last 73 years with no end in sight. The scope and scale of military benefits has little to with the compensation provided to individual military retirees but rather the scope and scale of a military-industrial-Congressional complex that is out of control. I should know: I was part of it for 20 years.

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