Military families blitz Congress over proposed benefits cuts

Military families and their advocates are blitzing Congress with calls and emails this week, urging them to not cut their housing and healthcare benefits.

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees are at loggerheads over the issue, with the House opposed to the cuts and the Senate and Pentagon backing them as a way to tighten the budget.

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Opponents of the reforms argue the changes go too far and would greatly hurt the standard of living for military families.

“We're taking our military for granted,” said Military Officers Association of American (MOAA) President retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan.

The proposals would boost out-of-pocket fees for Tricare, the health plan for military families, and require service members to kick in for up to six percent of their housing.

Ryan said the increased payments would be a burden.

“We're most worried about that mid-grade [service member] that's got a family of four that's known nothing but war for 10 years,” he said. 

Military healthcare and housing costs have been on the rise, and the Pentagon has proposed the cuts for several years.

But the backlash is making it difficult for the Department of Defense to win the fight on Capitol Hill.

#KeepYourPromise, an informal alliance of organizations that include the American Military Partner Association, Association of the United States Army (Family Readiness), Homefront United Network and the MOAA, has pushed back hard at the cuts.

The coalition has circulated a picture that depicts Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelThe Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report Billionaires stopping climate change action have a hold on Trump, GOP MORE as office manager Bill Lunbergh of the cult film “Office Space,” who sought to pull profits out of his office workers.

“Um yeah…I’m going to need you to fight ISIS, stop Ebola, and go to war back to Iraq, while I take away your pay and benefits. If you could just stay quiet that’d be great,” Hagel is depicted as saying. 

“The attached [picture] accurately reflects the feelings of many of our military and their families,” the alliance said in a statement Friday. 

Lawmakers last year established the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to look into how troop benefits could be reformed. The review is expected to be completed in February. 

The alliance urged lawmakers to wait for the review “so that a fuller understanding of the holistic needs of the all-volunteer force can be better understood and implemented.”

Lawmakers are trying to wrap up the annual Defense Department bill by Dec. 12, the last day Congress is scheduled to be in session. 

By Friday afternoon, neither side had budged with time running out. Lawmakers have left town for a Thanksgiving recess, and won't return until December.

Advocates arguing against the benefit cuts say that soldiers and their families are under the same demands as the last decade, given the conflict with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other potential threats.

“They read about Russia and Ukraine, they read about what we're doing in Afghanistan, they read about what we're doing in Iraq, they've been told to go down and help in West Africa with Ebola, and the Navy is going back to 8, 9, 10-month deployments because they don't have enough ships and enough people to go around,” Ryan said.

Defense Department spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said tough decisions had to made to balance compensation with the readiness and modernization of the military.

"The Department remains committed to ensuring any proposed changes keep faith with those who are serving today and with those who have served in the past - our retirees - but the proper balance must be found to ensure we maintain our force structure, readiness, and modernization capabilities while adequately compensating our personnel," he said in an email on Sunday.

--This report was updated at 1:34 p.m.