- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I just returned from a trip to Afghanistan. As I saw on previous trips to Iraq, America’s troops are performing an extremely tough mission with an extraordinary level of commitment and sacrifice.

The last decade of war has had serious consequences on the health of our troops and their families. No one should be shocked that they will need a steady supply of quality health care services over the long term. What is shocking is how many of the same military and civilian leaders who have spent so much oratory on the country’s debt to our all-volunteer force have disregarded the total sacrifices made by our troops and their families. With the exception of the leadership of the House Armed Services Committee, no other legislative leaders have spoken up against slashing the earned compensation of those who already have borne 100 percent of the national burden of wartime sacrifice.

The contrast between our troops in the field, with their courage, loyalty and commitment, and our leaders at home is stunning. Our country has serious financial problems that warrant bold action. But targeting our troops and their families first - by slashing their health care and retirement benefits - is a callous, hypocritical and shameful foul.

There was something truly perverse when some supercommittee members on both sides of the political spectrum mightily resisted asking special-interest groups, huge corporations or billionaires to contribute to fixing our national debt problems but put first priority on taxing military families by increasing their health care fees.

Before targeting those who already have sacrificed more for our country than any other Americans, why doesn’t the Department of Defense go after the big savings urged by a dozen federal reports that recommended combining the multiple, fragmented military health systems under one unified command structure? The most recent General Accounting Office report, in March, said that would save up to $460 million per year.

Getting more military families to use the Tricare mail-order pharmacy and improving the health care delivery system would save hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Yet when Defense Department leaders claim health care costs are eating them alive, no members of Congress have asked publicly what they are doing about it. Isn’t it the job of Congress to ask the right questions and make sure the best solutions are found?

Almost weekly, we see reports of gross mismanagement and cost overruns in expensive weapons programs, few of which have any relevance to the wars our troops are fighting today. The level of mismanagement is so severe that the Pentagon’s books have been deemed “unauditable,” and Pentagon leaders have said they won’t be able to pass that test before 2017. What private-sector firm could get away with such blatant mismanagement?

Our whole procurement system is awash in incompetence and has been allowed to stay that way for decades. So defense leaders misdirect attention from their contracting and oversight mismanagement by pushing people-program cuts instead simply because it’s easier.

There are plenty of options for reform, but they take courage and political risk. Military and civilian leaders must look at their own areas of responsibility and complete their work with the same level of courage and commitment they demand of our troops.

But that’s not the choice they’ve apparently made. And if no one stands up to object to this travesty, the needs of military people and their families will be offered up first in the budget battles to come.

Where are the defenders of the 1 percent who have fought so hard over the past 10 years? What must our troops and veterans do for their country to make good on its commitments to them?

If we have to choose between taxing military families or taxing special-interest groups, corporations and billionaires, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) comes down on the side of the troops.

With Thanksgiving approaching, I ask all of our leaders in Washington to re-examine their priorities and ask whether their actions reinforce or belie their frequent words of support for those who have served and sacrificed in uniform for the rest of us.

Retired Vice Adm. Norb Ryan Jr. is president of the Military Officers Association of America and was chief of naval personnel.