GOP lawmaker cites global unrest for keeping military benefits intact

Troop benefits should not be cut at a time of “extraordinary instability” around the world, the chairman of a key House panel said Wednesday.

“To me, the funding of national defense should be the priority,” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Military Personnel, told reporters after a panel hearing. “It shouldn’t be a trade of whether you have a commissary or whether you have readiness or even equipment. That shouldn’t be the case at all.”

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On Tuesday, Wilson’s subcommittee offered its draft of the fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill, which discarded the Pentagon’s proposals to boost out of pocket fees for TRICARE, the health plan for military families, require service members to kick in for up to six percent of their housing and reduce commissary subsidies.

Wilson cited Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the ongoing civil war in Syria and recent artillery exercises by North Korea as just some reasons not to cut benefits in the coming fiscal year.

During the markup hearing, ranking member Susan Davis (D-Calif.) said that while she supported leaving the suggested changes out of the bill, “we must begin to have a conversation to address these issues.”

She said that conversation should include the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. That body will not release its findings until February 2015 and could potentially influence the fiscal year 2016 budget blueprint.

Davis predicted “hard choices” will eventually need to be made regarding benefits “otherwise, it will only lead to more end strength reductions and readiness challenges” for the armed services, she said.