Mullen: Personnel, Health Costs ‘Not Sustainable’

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)