April 1, 2013

Regarding Charles Lane’s March 26 op-ed column, “Tricare, bloated but untouchable”:

In opining that working-age retirees should pay higher health-care costs, Mr. Lane appears not to appreciate what it takes to become a military retiree in the first place. The Defense Department offers only two carrots to entice someone to stay 20, 30 or 40 years: the immediate receipt of retirement pay and low Tricare premiums for the member and spouse.

Earning this, however, requires volunteering decades of one’s youth to the nation, moving perhaps a dozen or more times, uprooting children from multiple schools, preventing spouses from having any semblance of a career and building zero equity in homeownership. Add in multiple family separations, dangerous deployments, the threat of age discrimination when starting a second career and finally having to listen to those who equate patriotism to the amount of one’s health-care premium. This explains why veterans organizations such as mine resist attempts to civilianize a military retirement system the civilian world has nothing in common with.

Every military retiree — all 1.9 million of us out of the nation’s 22 million veterans — made a huge, upfront investment to earn our retirement and health care, and we know that any lessening of government commitment is going to directly impact retention. The troops are watching, too, because once the economy rebounds, picking stability over unpredictability and a business suit instead of body armor are not very difficult choices to make.   

 Joe Davis, Washington

The writer is director of public affairs for Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Charles Lane’s column should be greeted with praise, not with the hate mail he anticipated. As a retired Air Force colonel on Tricare for Life (TFL) and Medicare, I can attest to the provision of outstanding medical care at virtually zero out-of-pocket cost. But I and many of my fellow retirees can easily afford higher co-pays and larger deductibles. If the 9.7 million Tricare participants contributed an average of $1,000 per year in premiums and co-pays, the annual cost would be reduced by $9.7 billion. It would be grossly unfair to ask those who served and fought for this country to be the only ones to sacrifice. But if it were part of a shared sacrifice involving means-testing for Social Security and Medicare as well as Tricare, I believe that veterans would once again step forward to lead this great nation.

Richard L. Klass, Arlington

Charles Lane stated that military retirees claimed recruiters offered free health care for life but “the courts correctly rejected this legally, and factually, spurious claim.”

In reality, the Defense Department did promise free health care for life. I saw it myself 42 years ago, when I was 18. It was understood by millions who served. In the 41 years my father was under the military health-care system (13 years as a retiree), he never paid for medical care. That’s because the Defense Department kept its promise.

In the first 11 of my 30 years in the military, I did not pay for my or my family’s health care. Around 1987, that started to change. But the truth is we were promised free health care for life. Denying that is a departure from the truth.

I’ll pay more for my health care if it helps today’s troops survive in combat. Any military retiree would. But there should be an admission the promise was broken. Do not insult us by stating no “legal” promise was made.

Clifton L. Bray Jr. , Tampa