ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Acknowledging that changes are needed to deal with unsustainable personnel costs, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff emphasized here last night that the United States can’t break faith with military members and their families.
President Barack Obama recommended this week that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction form a commission to come up with a plan for a new, future retirement system, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy.
That commission is expected to make recommendations as part of a plan to address the national debt that Mullen called “the No. 1 threat to our national security.”
“We as a country have got to get a grip on that,” he said, recognizing that the Pentagon, too, must do its part.
That will require some difficult and well-thought out decisions that shape what kind of military the United States will have in the future, he said, and how large the force will be and what capabilities it will have.
A big part of that equation involves people — and how they will be compensated.
Mullen emphasized that there are no immediate plans to change the military retirement plan. Even if a change was to be made, he said, officials would press to have it “grandfathered,” so people already serving continue to be covered by the current system.
And, if the choice came down to prioritizing between retirees and those currently in uniform, Mullen said, “my priority is for those who are serving.”
“That doesn’t mean that we do one and don’t do the other,” he told the midshipmen. “But that is my focus.”
The United States has a “very well-compensated force,” Mullen said, telling the future naval officers it’s well deserved.
“We are in two wars. We are dying for our country and we need to be well compensated,” he said. “But it isn’t infinite.”
Personnel costs have soared 80 percent over the past 10 years, Mullen said. In addition, health-care costs skyrocketed from $19 billion in 2001 to $51 billion this year and are projected to reach $65 billion within four years.
“That is not sustainable,” he said.
The full compensation package needs to be examined, Mullen said, including retirement pay, housing allowances, bonuses, health care and other benefits.
“There are going to have to be some changes,” the chairman said. The challenge is “to do it in a balanced … and fair way.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)