Pentagon budget would cut military health benefits and commissary funds

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he knew the changes he announced Monday would be "controversial," but that they would enable the Pentagon to focus on military readiness. (The Associated Press)

The Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal would raise health-care costs for certain members of the military community and drastically trim subsidies for the commissaries that provide discounted groceries to troops and their families.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday that the proposed changes to the Tricare program would involve fee increases for active-duty family members and military retirees, but he provided no specifics on how much the rates would rise.

“We will ask retirees and some active-duty family members to pay a little more in their deductibles and co-pays, but their benefits will remain affordable and generous, as they should be,” he said.

Hagel said the proposed Tricare changes would encourage members to use the most affordable options for care, such as military treatment facilities, preferred providers and generic prescriptions.

Under the plan, medically retired service members, their families and the survivors of service members who die on active duty would not pay the annual participation fees charged to other retirees, and they would pay a smaller share of the costs for health care than other retirees, Hagel said.

The budget also calls for a 71 percent reduction in subsidies for commissaries, which would lower the amount from $1.4 billion to $400 million over three years.

Military groups have opposed the planned cut, saying it could force most existing commissaries to close.  Hagel said the Defense Department would not shutter any stores and that they would still pay no rent or taxes. He also said the shops overseas and in rural areas would continue to receive direct subsidies.

The budget, unveiled Monday at a news conference, does not recommend changes for the military retirement benefits of existing troops. Hagel said the Pentagon is waiting for a report from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, expected in February 2015, before pursuing reforms in that area.

The fiscal plan Congress and President Obama approved last year would have reduced the annual cost-of-living increases for younger military retirees starting in 2015, but lawmakers in both chambers voted to repeal that provision earlier this month for anyone who enlisted before Jan. 1.

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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