When I saw this picture put out by the National Military Family Association (and many of the Keep Your Promise partners) I was like the rest of our military community, I was shocked and felt disrespected and underappreciated by our leaders in Washington.
The VERY first thought that crossed my mind when I saw that picture was "well, if it means our service members could get better pay, not see a decrease in BAH or improve upon the healthcare we have, I will gladly say goodbye to the commissary."
I had that thought, but I didn't share it. I didn't share it because I want to keep all 4 of those things and improve on them and there was no reason at the time for me to speak against the commissary publicly. But the only way to try to keep all 4 things without decreases was to find the money needed to keep them operational. So I did. I found $53 million that is in my opinion wasted by our government. It's a far cry from the $1.375 billion left to fund the commissary, but it is a start.
I believe that whether we like it or not we will lose some very valuable benefits when the new DoD budget plan is released. I also believe our wallets will take a hit.
Contrary to what the public opinion appears, I am not determined to close the commissary down. I VERY much enjoy shopping there and saving the money I do in fact save each year by shopping there. But I do not in any way believe in the numbers reported by DeCA and I will stand my ground on that until someone disproves me using the numbers they themselves provide.
I also will not buy into the fact that I have to pay more money per month to save the money they say I save.
Let me illustrate how I have come to believe they want me to spend more money to save the money they say I save:
The one fact I am using and will stick with is DeCA says I (as a family of 4) will save nearly $4500 if I shop there exclusively. There is no way I can save $4500 if it costs me $10,500 a year (after $4500 savings). Based on their math it will cost me $2100 to shop there and get the savings they tout since I currently spend roughly $8400. For the record once again, I do NOT shop there on any sort of consistent basis.
I didn't throw my hat in this ring over the commissary until our leaders testified that it was something that should be untouchable. Out of all the things listed on that photo above, Health Care, Pay Raises, BAH and the Commissary, the VERY last one I would choose to make my rally point would be the commissary. And here is why:
Pay Raises: I would prefer cash in my pocket. This would allow me to choose where I shop and I can adjust my budget accordingly
BAH: As military families we can not dictate the cost of housing in any given area. It is not a secret that property managers capitalize on the fact that their homes are outside military installations.
Health Care: Health care for the military is extremely important. Especially finding quality health care. So I won't even argue this point too much because it should be a no brainer that our health(mental and physical) should be a priority.
If I had to rate the four main issues brought to the table this week, this is how it would look for me in order of importance:
Health Care, Pay Raises, BAH, Commissary.
Prior to the hearing on Wednesday when our Senior Leaders testified that the commissary should be a priority, I was all in to avoid losing ANY of those four benefits mentioned. But when the use of the numbers DeCA was offered as the reason why the commissary is so critical to us, I had to call a spade a spade. I had to speak up for what I believe in. My heart was that convicted. Even if it costs me losing face, which has already happened.
I believe if we are going to lay claim to the commissary as being our saving grace, we owe it to the American public to be transparent. Transparency is something I think most of us agree lacks within the walls where our politicians do their work. To me, us using those numbers against them is just as disgusting as the way they use similar tactics against us.
I am still of the mindset that we should save the commissary from the budget cuts if we can, but I CAN NOT AND WILL NOT use the savings on Kraft Mac 'n' Cheese as something that can, and will, cost our families more in the long run. I honestly believe that if we are focusing our attention on saving the commissary, we are fighting a war against Congress that can not be won.
I do believe that because the way our leaders in the military community(civilian and in uniform) have postured us around the commissary, we will in fact win the battle of where we buy a gallon of milk. But at what cost will it be?
Like it or not, we will need to "tighten our belts". All of us.
I am not calling for a closure to the commissary, but I am calling upon our leaders to take a second look at the numbers that were provided to them by DeCA as their defense to keep it. And I stand behind my belief that using the inflated and bloated numbers will border on the lines of being fraudulent. And continued use of those numbers will in fact bring to question the integrity of our Armed Services. Using those numbers will make us just like Congress, deceptive.
If we want to keep all four of those benefits mentioned above going strong, I believe we need to make a list of our priorities and decide what is in the best interest of our service members (past, present and future recruits) and our families.
Here is my list I would tout as to where NOT to make cuts and I will put them in order with what matters most to me down to what matters least. I will avoid using ANYTHING regarding "force protection" because those things, including their own bloated reports, they are well beyond the scope of things I will ever understand.
Retirement- even though my family won't benefit from it- but if you put 20 years in the military, you deserve to ride off into the sunset after the mental, emotional and physical toll it takes
Disability benefits- if someone has been hurt or injured because of their service to our country, we owe them an above average life. And if their disability hinders the quality of life they would be living had they not been wounded(mentally or physically), we should be paying them more. Even though money can't buy happiness, they deserve better
Survivor Benefits- This and the one for disability are in the same arena. If someone has given their life in defense of our country, their survivors should be set for life. Money won't bring back their loved one, but they should never have to work again if they choose. They should be able to find a way to create new memories
Health Care- Six months ago I brought a military spouse to a military hospital who had just set out to end his life. Four hours after being brought to the ER he was discharged because there wasn't enough beds in the hospital. He was told "go home and sleep it off and try getting ahold of the VA in the morning." Let me add in, he was to be sent home to care for his two young children by himself without anyone there to care for him. I didn't know him well and I had my family, so I couldn't be the treatment he desperately needed. **The healthcare issues go well beyond this, but this is my personal experience. An experience that was just like the one I had when I was in the same boat at Fort Riley**
Pay Raises- My family is living a much better life now than before we started this military life because of the current pay we receive, but I think it should go without saying we do not pay our men and women in uniform a fair wage for what we ask them to do
BAH- An illustration of the point I previously made about BAH and how property managers capitalize on the fact our homes are outside of a military installation is this: While at Fort Riley, Kansas my family paid $1,200/month for a 1200 sq ft home built in the 70's. And this was not an updated or very nice home. For that amount of money(or less) I could get a home with a pool on a salt water canal in my hometown in Florida. Using information provided by the US Census the annual income in my hometown in Flagler County, Florida is $48,134. Using the same census information for Geary County, Kansas shows the annual income being $47,879(LESS MONEY). So why is it I can get a much nicer home for less money away from a military installation? To me, BAH is something our families can't compromise. To me, that is a quality of life issue that needs to stand tall.
Commissary- Believe it or not, I do enjoy shopping there. About every 6 weeks it is "Worth the Trip" to me. I do now live 30 mins from the commissary but even when I lived 700 yards from one my budget wasn't very different than from what it is now while shopping where the rest of America shops. Outside the gates **It should be noted, I will NEVER be in favor of completely shutting down the entire commissary system. There are installations where the people rely on the price savings due to where they are stationed.**
BOSS Programs- Our single soldiers could very well have it harder than our service members with families. I have no data to support that, but I can only imagine what it must be like to be these young service members and have little to add to their lives in a positive and constructive way after the duty day ends. They lack the family support many of us rely on. Something BOSS programs do offer them
To most of us those things above are untouchable, but we will undoubtedly need to take a hard look at those things and figure out how we can continue to fund them. Just like in our personal homes, we have to set priorities when our budget changes. Those above are my priorities. That is why I have set out to try to fund them.
There are ways to save money. And I would welcome anyone willing to come to the table and really hash things out so we can find the money. I found the money by going after the marketing of professional sports with DoD money. I know collectively a group of us can find more. So if anyone wants to get locked in a hotel room with me for a good solid week, let's go. Let's find that money those in Congress say we don't have. Here are some examples of ways we can force their hand without compromising those things mentioned above as untouchable, as well as many other things:
Redundant programs or programs that aren't working- I have been witness MANY times to Army Community Services(ACS) bringing in "professionals" to speak to family members and service members but the turnout for the event is minimal, and sometimes no one shows up at all. This issue is a blog entry all of it's own because there are a lot of duplicated and/or ineffective programs
Some Tuition Assistance- Tuition assistance is an integral part of helping our service members further their education while in uniform, but many take advantage of the system. If there was more accountability towards the service member to complete their schooling, I think we can save a lot of money. And if someone drops out and they can't provide a good reason for not completing the program, they could possibly be required to pay the money back
MyCAA- My argument against this is the same as the argument I made regarding Tuition Assistance
Veterans and Spouse employment readiness- Our vets and spouses need all the help they can get in finding a job. The numbers support that. But a quick Google search would show there are dozens upon dozens of private organizations trying to help with this issue
Stabilization- The needs of the military have to and must ALWAYS come first. If they NEED our service members somewhere else, we need to go. I also find that there is much value in not allowing a service member to get too comfortable in any one location. But the money it costs to move our families every 2-3 years adds up. And as a friend mentioned, stabilization could help spouses with finding employment opportunities that don't require the hardships associated with us finding a job. The same friend mentioned stabilization could also greatly help our military kids(brats) and could offset some of the additional counseling services associated with the hardships they endure from frequent moves
Health Care copays- Just this week I made an appointment for a common cold. I was on my 5th day and wasn't feeling much better so I made an appointment fearing it the flu or pneumonia. Since they had an appointment available immediately following mine, I made one for my son too just in case it was beyond the common cold and he had been under the weather too. Had I had a copay, I probably would have waited one more day before making my appointment. If I had waited, I wouldn't have made the appointment as I was feeling much better. It should be noted, my neighbor who was a Law Enforcement Officer and is now a Corrections Officer(a job with much danger) has typically had a $15 copay with all of his Dr visits. I do not find it unreasonable for us to pay the same.
Uniforms- I won't even expand on this because I think if you are reading this, you probably know about all the uniform changes and studies that keep happening. At least the only changes the Marines seem to make is whether they can roll their sleeves up or not. 8>)
PT Shoes- Yes, the Army wants to consider issuing sneakers for their soldiers. If their logic is because they are tired of how out of uniform (and ridiculous) everyone looks with every shade of neon ever created on their running shoes, they could simply make a rule that shoes must be within a certain color chart
Marketing and Recruitment- We will ALWAYS need new service members. If we didn't bring in young folks, can you imagine how tired a bunch of 40 year old men and women would be on the battlefield? But I can not and will not accept paying Dale Earnhardt, JR. $30,000,000 to make left hand turns and then ultimately win $1,500,000 by winning the Daytona 500
Less SWAG- If you have ever showed up to an ACS or MWR event, you know exactly what I mean. We are given either a flimsy reusable shopping bag or a poor quality 'draw string backpack'. Usually those bags are filled with tiny trinkets and personalized sticky pads along with other randomness that we don't need. And we especially don't need the same things given to us at every event
No More Waste To Secure Next Years Budget- There is this totally weird formula that penalizes people for not using all the equipment and supplies they receive in a given year. If at the end of the year you have not used up all of your supplies, your budget for the upcoming year will be less. This leads to people literally throwing things away and burning things that can be used elsewhere. A practical example would be a CONEX filled with medical supplies that needs to be burned because some of it is past it's "shelf life". Instead of burning a box of Band-Aids that apparently has an expiration date, send them to San Antonio to the TRADOC schools so the new recruits can use those to practice with instead of "MacGyvering" things to emulate what should be used.
Put Our Troops To Work- We outsource EVERYTHING! From lawn care to food served at the DFACS. We are paying private contractors to cook for our troops when there are troops who signed up to be.... wait for it..... COOKS! We also hire private security to man the gates. This is something we a reworking on, but make the executive order if it protects us in the long run
I will add one last thing.... One last thing that I do believe EVERYONE will get behind to cut costs.
STOP PAYING OUR ELECTED LEADERS EXHORBORANT SALARIES!!!!!- No expansion on this topic needed.
I will not(unless proven wrong) back off my comments made the other day in my blog entry regarding the "puffed up" numbers used by DeCA. And I will still be outspoken against ANY further use of those numbers as our defense of the commissary. I will not jeopardize the integrity of the uniform my wife wears by the continued use of them in the event I am correct. As someone who would like to consider myself a little more than just a bit patriotic, I feel it is my responsibility to bring to light a glaring example of how Washington manipulates things in an effort to further an agenda.
At the end of the day I am an American who is part of the military family community. I am not a military family member who is part of the American community.
I shared 13 ways we can save our government money. I used just a little help from some facebook friends so I can only imagine if a couple dozen people came together and got locked in together to come up with more things to expand on my list.
Before I leave you, I want to reiterate that my stance on DeCA and the numbers reported the other day by the Senior Enlisted personnel do not make me question the integrity or character of the gentleman who testified on our behalf. It is not their fault they were fed bad information. Just like it wouldn't be their fault on the battlefield if troops were killed or wounded based on bad intel, it's not their fault now. I blame the folks wearing suits. Not the ones wearing rank.
If we want benefits to stay without costing us other important benefits, then we will have to fight. But we must fight fair. And we must be willing to offer solutions. It is of the utmost importance for us to do both. Not only is our past, present and future generations of service members dependent on it, but we do owe it to the American people. Fighting for them and serving them is why our families do what we do.**
If you would like to read my blog entry regarding DeCA's numbers, click here.
If you want to read my article about how I think we might save $53,000,000.... click here.
**With the song for this blog entry I want you to do me a favor, every time they say "YOU GOTTA FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO PARTY!", change it to "YOU GOTTA FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO SHOP AT THE COMMISSARY!".