July 21, 2012

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report that Walter Pincus cited in his July 17 Fine Print column, “CBO says military health-care costs could soar,” tells only half the story and ignores the obvious: Those who pursued a career in uniform have every right to use the benefits they were told that their decades of service would earn for them. Those who choose to use any other available civilian care are doing the government a favor, not the other way around.

Second, let’s not forget that in this economy many retired service members have lost their civilian jobs or their civilian health benefits have been curtailed. They have every right to turn to their hard-earned military health coverage.

Finally, a big reason for the Defense Department’s rising health costs is Pentagon leaders’ failure to fulfill their obligationto be responsible stewards of public funds. According to CBO and Pentagon statistics, care is 25 percent less costly in military facilities — but those facilities are 27 percent underutilized. Many have proposed reforming the current counterproductive and duplicative setup under which three separate service health-care programs and multiple contractors fight for shares of the health-care budget. Yet defense leaders adamantly oppose legislation passed by the House to consolidate all military medical authority under a unified medical command. Instead, they seek to shift more costs to beneficiaries.

Rather than blithely endorse further penalties for those who have sacrificed more for their country than any other segment of America, the CBO and Mr. Pincus should highlight the abject failures of those who are supposed to be responsible for managing the program efficiently.

Norbert R. Ryan Jr., Washington

The writer is president of the Military Officers Association of America.