A letter from Harry Riley, 14 Jan 2006

Tom Philpot in his syndicated column today is again reporting on Department of Defense intentions to raise TRICARE medical care fees for military retirees to the tune of double and triple current costs. Military Officers Association of America and others are voicing the same alarm.

In the first place there should be no fees placed on military retiree medical care as the care is an earned entitlement - not a give-away “extremely rich” benefit as some suggest, but an earned moral obligation of the United States government resulting from military service, military policy, and congressional promises.

For more years that I care to remember Congress consistently explained low military pay (well below cost of living, inflation, civilian equivalent, etc.) as accounting for the “retirement benefits of commissary privileges, post exchange access and no cost life-time medical care” to justify the low compensation.

Year after year warriors heard the congressional explanation, didn't like it, but sacrificed quality of living, long periods of separation from loved ones, and life threatening conditions in service to our nation - fully expecting the U.S. Government to keep it's word. Congress was clearly stating that military members were purchasing no cost heath care and other retirement benefits from the inadequate pay being held back at the time of service.

Now the leadership of the U.S. government has no qualms of penalizing our warriors even in time of war - in short, betraying past, current and future guardians of our nation. Not only are military retirees forced to pay medical care fees, they are required to do so from the pittance received in military and social security retired compensation, which is directly correlated to low wages while on active duty.

It is clear leadership in Washington, D.C. has a warped sense of what leading means. In the case of our Commander-in-Chief, it means, among other things, taking care of the troops, spouses, and widows. Is that being done? I don't think so.

Often leadership forgets the forces that propelled him/her to the position they occupy. There is always someone beneath that is struggling, pushing, winning the battles that push leaders up the line. Military leaders are not successful because of what “they” do, but because they ride on the shoulders of privates and sergeants.

Has this lesson been lost in the White House, DOD and Joint Chiefs of Staff? Has the Joint Chiefs forgotten they ride the shoulders of the troops? Did Secretary Rumsfeld, Under Secretary Winkenwerder or Chu ever know?

If the President and Secretary of Defense understood leadership they would ensure a budget that takes care of the troops in harm's way and keep commitments to those who previously experienced the smell of war. How can the Joint Chiefs remain true to the principle of “taking care of the troops, spouses, and widows” and remain silent or approve military retiree medical care betrayal?

When greed, political power and deceit take precedence over meeting obligations to our warriors, America is in grave danger - much greater than from any terror threat.

Harry Riley, COL, USA (Ret)
111 Overview Drive
Crestview, FL 32539