February 25, 2015
Patricia Kime | Military Times
Service families are well cared for in today's military but face increasing stress amid discussions on altering benefits like health care and family programs, the services' top enlisted members told Congress on Wednesday.
With the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission proposing sweeping reforms to military pay and benefits packages and the White House's proposed 2016 budget pitching cost-savings measures like health care fee hikes and commissary cutbacks, the men implored Congress to protect family benefits.
Saying that service budgets have been "cut to the bone" by limits imposed by sequestration, the enlisted leaders said family quality-of-life programs are vital to retention and operational readiness.
"In my four deployments … never once did a soldier say, 'I'm worried about my family.' I'm concerned that someday, that will be an issue," Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey told members of the House Appropriations Committee's military construction and veterans affairs panel.
"The families want to know, with the Marine's departure, they are being cared for — health care, child care," Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green said.
The four did not give any opinions specifically on the reforms proposed by the compensation commission. But they stressed that the quality of family programs — especially health care — can sway a service member's decision to stay in or leave the military.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAW) Mike Stevens asked the committee to be "cautious and deliberate" in moving forward on any reforms.
"We can never take for granted the sacrifices that both our sailors and families make, and health care is an area that must be valued and protected," Stevens said.
Of the quality-of-life programs singled out by the congressional panel, lawmakers asked about mental health services, commissaries, transition programs and credentialing requirements that would allow troops to transfer their military-acquired technical skills to civilian jobs.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody asked Congress to repeal the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration in order to preserve programs he considers vital to preserving morale among airmen and their families.
"We believe [quality-of-life] initiatives to be an overwhelming factor in the decision airmen and their families make to continue serving our nation," Cody said.