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The fact is cutbacks in pay, health care and retirement throughout the 1980s and 1990s caused retention problems in the late ‘90s that Congress has worked hard to fix over the last decade. Charting growth from a starting point in 2000 or 2001 inappropriately inflates apparent trends by including one-time changes from a decade ago that won’t be repeated in the future.

The rate of growth has dampened markedly in recent years, and will decline further in the outyears due a variety of cost-saving measures included in the fiscal 2013 Defense Authorization Act and new regional health care contracts for civilian care. 

The “military health cost growth since 2001” argument is based on 10-year-old data that are irrelevant to the future. 

Rather than foisting more of its health costs to military beneficiaries, defense leaders should focus on fulfilling their own responsibilities to provide efficient oversight of Defense health programs. They should be held accountable for correcting the real sources of excess costs and fixing problems by consolidating redundant, counterproductive health systems. 

We overcame service-centric biases to improve joint war fighting. We should do the same with a military health care system that features three separate service medical systems, four major health contractors and any number of subcontractors that compete counterproductively for budget share, without a single point of overall responsibility for health care budgets and delivery.

Those who seek to cut military pay, health and retirement benefits by making these programs look more like civilian programs overlook the fundamental difference between civilian and military conditions of service.

Most civilians are unwilling to accept a single tour of service in uniform, much less endure the extraordinary demands and sacrifices inherent in a 20- to 30-year military career.

No federal obligation is more important than protecting our national security.  The most important element is sustaining a dedicated all-volunteer force. The past decade of unprecedented demands and sacrifices highlight how radically different military service and conditions are from civilian life.

Existing career incentives are the only things sustaining a strong national defense through severe and protracted wartime conditions. 

America will remain the world’s greatest power only as long as it continues to fulfill its reciprocal obligation to our extraordinary, dedicated, top-quality, all-volunteer force. They’ve never let our country down. Please don’t let them down.

Retired Vice Adm. Norb Ryan Jr. is president of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).