Did you know, for example, that it costs $850,000 to maintain a single soldier for a year in Afghanistan?
Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale offered that figure Monday at a Senate Budget Committee hearing where Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was the main witness. Hale explained that the number included special allowances for being there, the money spent for supporting other coalition forces and even a share for costs of the organization that produces protective devices used to discover improvised explosive devices.
At that same hearing, you would have learned of an ongoing investigation into actions at the Madigan Army Medical Center outside Tacoma, Wash. Soldiers originally found to have PTSD were stripped of that diagnosis by Madigan screeners and instead were found to have “other behavioral health disorders that didn’t come with the same level of benefits,” according to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Murray said that after an independent review of some soldiers at Walter Reed, some diagnoses were changed back to PTSD. More soldiers are awaiting review.
Murray questioned Panetta about an allegation that the Madigan decision to change PTSD diagnosis “seems” to have been related to the higher benefits that would go with having PTSD.
Panetta responded that he became concerned when he read a report on the Madigan Center and that it was under investigation. He said he had “just met with a couple last night. And they had to go through hell in order to be able to get the diagnosis that was required here. And that should not happen.” He added, “I’ve directed our personnel undersecretary to look at this issue and to correct it. . . . It’s unacceptable now to have the process we have in place.”
At previous hearings, Panetta had put off answering how he would meet sequestration, the 2011 Budget Control Act requirement to cut an additional $500 billion in national security spending over the next 10 years, starting in January 2013. On Monday, he said he was waiting for guidance from the White House through the Office of Management and Budget and he assumed serious planning would have to begin “sometime in the summer.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said that meant that Congress would have to act prior to the summer if it was to head off sequester, which Panetta has said would be disastrous to the new national security strategy.
Hale added that Pentagon and OMB lawyers were studying how the across-the-board sequester cuts would be applied, if it came to that. In a letter to Congress in November, Panetta had indicated a common percentage cut would be applied to every single Defense Department program. But Hale said the percentage reductions would probably apply to accounts — such as Navy shipbuilding or Army operations and maintenance — and there would be flexibility on how they were made to individual programs.