Salute to Spouses Blog

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Budget woes, theirs and ours

Last week Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a massive reduction in the number of furlough days that were necessary to help close the budget gap brought on by sequestration. He also announced that commissaries would no longer be closed on Mondays.

Don't celebrate yet. Did you read the follow-on news?

There's still a budget shortfall. Congress has to cut another $52 billion from the 2014 fiscal budget, beginning Oct. 1. Then, every year for the next eight years Congress needs to cut another $50 billion. The Department of Defense is squarely in their sights.

Secretary Hagel may have reopened commissaries on Monday, but his office is also asking lawmakers to consider drastic cuts to service members' compensation, including closing commissaries completely. reported last week both the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the deputy defense secretary presented the House Armed Service Committee last week with a list of concessions they should consider to help ease the budget woes.

Those included:

- Higher Tricare Fees for working age military retirees

-  Smaller annual raises for current forces

- Military and civilian pay caps

- Tricare changes to urge working retirees to use their employer health insurance instead

- Smaller housing allowances (BAH)

- Smaller overseas cost of living allowance pay (COLA)

- An end to civilian pensions for retired military who work and then retire from federal civilian jobs

-  Closing commissaries

Every item on this list is like taking a punch to the gut. Every item means service members will receive less in their paycheck but have to pay more for basic items like housing, food and healthcare. For many families, there is no extra money each month to squeeze from. For our family a reduction in just BAH would mean either selling our home or going into foreclosure.

But it seems like there is not much room to negotiate. The men presenting the morbid news are both career military. They know how these changes could potentially hurt military families. However, they also know that in order to have these perks, troops are losing access to training and equipment that can help bring them home alive.

This year the budget shortfall meant only soldiers rotating to Afghanistan received combat training. An entire Naval aircraft carrier group didn't deploy. The Air Force grounded many of their squadrons.

It's hard to fight a war when you can't afford to fly into battle.

As a military spouse, I'm horrified by potential losses our families may suffer in the coming years. As an American, I'm horrified by the fact that we may no longer be able to afford to protect our nation.

In either case, one thing is certain: change is coming and it is not going to be easy. Military families need to do exactly what military commanders are doing and begging Congress to do: take a hard, serious look at your finances. Find places to cut and save. Find ways to stretch your dollar.

And do it now, before Congress does it for you. Because when those cuts come, they will be swift, widespread and painful. If you can bring your financial household into check, the cut may not be as deep.


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