Romney and veterans; from the campaign

| October 22, 2012

I’ve been in contact with John Noonan all weekend. Noonan is the Romney campaign’s Defense Policy Adviser. I’ve been trying to get answers to your questions from the Romney campaign in regards to veterans’ issues and John has been very helpful. This is the result of our conversations;

Will a Romney Administration reverse the odious hikes to Tricare out-of-pocket costs for military retirees? Good question. President Obama asked for $11 billion in TRICARE fee increases, fees that would ostensibly be passed on to military retirees. The House of Representatives thought the hike was a bad idea, and largely neutralized it by tying any increase in Tricare to cost of living adjustments. That bill was passed in May but we’re still waiting for Senator Reid to take it up in the Senate. So the battlespace will remain shaky until we know what are the exact fee increases. Congress is out until after the election, so my guess is that this happens in the lame-duck session.

But there’s a larger point here. The philosophy that guides Governor Romney on troops and veterans is two-fold. First, he’s a promise-keeper. His record in Massachusetts is sound evidence to that point. Second, he believes that a promise was made to our military veterans and families when they volunteered for service, and that promise must be kept. If we’re going to keep faith with the military and veterans community, you have to do more than go through the motions. You have to improve on care where care has faltered, you have to restore faith where faith was lost, and you have incentivize a new generation of volunteers who are willing to take an oath on behalf of our shared security. There’s consequences if you don’t meet those obligations, both morally and strategically.

Will the Tricare surplus remain for Tricare and not used to fund air craft carriers? It was wrong to propose huge TRICARE fee hikes when you have a surplus in that account. But keep in mind that the surplus was approximately $800 million, when the TRICARE bump requested by President Obama was $11 billion dollars. If only that money was used towards something like Navy ships! At least more ships in the fleet would reduce the time our sailors spend away from their families. I note that the USS Eisenhower, an aircraft carrier, is on a 9 month deployment rather than the more typical 6 month rotation. My dad pulled WESTPAC tours on the USS Enterprise during the Cold War, and I know that’s a hell of a long separation time. We’re also cutting 100,000 troops out of service to comply with President Obama’s defense cuts. Another 100,000 will probably go if sequestration is triggered. To that point, a deployment in Afghanistan is typically twice as long as a Navy tour. So yes, we have some money that could be used to ease the strain on deployed forces, whether it’s in decreasing dwell time or adjusting TRICARE. But instead, the money is going to pay for huge increases in the size of federal government. Governor Romney is a firm believer in the U.S. military. In addition to stopping defense cuts, he plans to increase shipbuilding from 9 to 15 ships a year, add 100,000 troops to the force, and increase spending to the base defense budget as war costs come down. When I was in the Air Force, I experienced the dreaded reduction-in-force boards, and know there’s an awful lot of uncertainty in the military ranks that go beyond health care costs. It’s my hope that the Governor’s election, and reemphasis on our national defense, will throw a wrench into fears about RIF boards, retirement, and separation times.

The president promised the American Legion convention last year that he wouldn’t “balance the budget on the backs of veterans.” While he was making that promise, his SecDef was doing just that. Can Romney make the same promise without reneging on it? President Obama has nearly doubled spending at the Department of Veterans Affairs in four years. But he’s focused on inputs rather than outputs. His emphasis is on how much taxpayer money you can pump into bureaucracies. Governor Romney’s emphasis is the opposite. What are the taxpayers getting out of government agencies – particularly the VA? For example, the VA’s struggled to provide timely care in the past four years. The backlog for disability claims has become a terrible problem. It is reaching one million overdue claims. Same with the waitlist for veterans to see a mental health care provider. The Governor has made reforming the VA a priority. He’s talked about common sense solutions, like directing sources to health care providers and claims adjudicators, rather than nameless administrators and bureaucrats. He will hold VA officials accountable for poor performance and mismanagement, which regrettably is becoming the standard rather than the exception. He doesn’t believe in giving out senior executive bonuses for poor performance when you’ve got a sergeant with post-traumatic stress waiting 60 days to see a therapist. The Governor has advocated simple, common sense technical reforms to the VA like creating a single electronic medical record from boot camp to retirement, so we’re not burning precious time mailing heavy paper medical files across the country. And with incidents of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury on the rise, plus an average 18 veterans a day committing suicide, a waitlist of 2 months to see a mental health provider is unacceptable. The Governor’s solution is to provide veterans access to the TRICARE network of mental health care professionals at the VA’s expense. This doubles the number of mental health care providers available to the VA overnight. It’s outrageous that bureaucratic inertia is standing in the way of fixing this problem, when we already have the resources at our disposal to make meaningful progress on fighting TBI, PST, and veteran suicide. Finally, President Obama’s defense cuts are projected to force up to 200,000 troops out of service. Those unfortunate enough to be separated will become new VA customers. If you think the VA is struggling to meet demand now, just wait will we start forcing that many bodies onto an already overburdened system. It won’t be pleasant to watch.

Will a Romney administration stop shutting down Tricare Prime? Basically, will the Romney Administration keep the promises that the government made to veterans? We fulfilled our end of the bargain and all we want is what we earned. I haven’t heard of any proposal to shutdown Tricare Prime from either campaign, ours or the President’s. But this does speak to the larger importance of keeping faith and honoring promises. There’s both a strong moral and strategic case to be made here. Start breaking promises, and it’s going to be much harder to attract quality people to staff an all-volunteer military.

John Noonan
Defense Policy Advisor
Romney for President, Inc

My thanks to John for taking the time to answer the questions we haven’t otherwise heard from the campaign. I especially appreciate that he took the time to do this while the campaign is focused on the debate tonight.

Category: 2012 election, Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan, Veterans Issues

Comments (9)

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  1. Outlaw13 says:

    I’d lie to offer the suggestion that if we were to cut the General Officer ranks in half we could use the money saved for a lot more useful things. I have yet to see anyone explain why we have more GO’s now than we had during the second world war.

  2. Outlaw13 says:

    lie = like. Sorry ’bout that.

  3. RunPatRun says:

    Don’t know if I trust either one of those two, but think our chances are better with Romney. Kudos to John for answering the questions, doubt you’d get much information from the Obama campaign.

  4. Hondo says:

    Outlaw13: true – but cutting GO/FO authorizations in half won’t really save all that much.

    By law (10 USC 526), active-duty GOs/FOs are limited to a total of 658. Reserve GOs/FOs serving temporarily on active duty plus those awaiting retirement can add up to about 10%; let’s call the resulting plussed-up total 720.

    Cutting that in half would yield a net savings of 360. Assuming $250,000 per in benefits and salary costs (that’s actually probably high; GO/FO pay is normally limited to Schedule V of the Executive Schedule, currently about $155k/year, and their aides/drivers/quarters/offices/etc . . . . would simply be reassigned or reused and their organizations would also remain), that yields a savings of $90M. With a DoD base budget of around $500B and a federal budged approaching $4T, that’s roughly 0.2% of the DoD budget – not exactly a lot of savings.

    Bottom line: it might be worth it for symbolism, but it won’t really save much in the grand scheme of things.

  5. Jonn Lilyea says:

    For the record, I was going to contact the Obama campaign and ask them the same questions, but since we’ve been watching their policies towards veterans over the last four years, we already know the answers. They see veterans as a way to fund their social programs, from the time they tried to make us buy insurance for service-connected disabilities to raiding the surplus of our Tricare premiums while jacking up our premiums. I can’t even figure out who the veteran policy guy is for Obama. I know in 2008, it was Phil Carter, but he got fired from his job at DoD’s Detainee Affairs Office, so I figure he’s not on the team this year.

  6. PhillyandBCEagles says:

    @ #3 – exactly. Romney might fuck us over. But Obama already has been, and definitely will continue to do so.

  7. 2-17 AirCav says:

    Good work. I have no doubt whatsover that your questions prompted a position paper and some debate prep for Romney. You’ll excuse me for this but how is it that some relatively obscure blogger gets answers to questions that the large media don’t?

  8. nonsubhomine says:

    Well, I am going to vote for Romney anyway, but I am a little disappointed with the responses from Noonan. Specific questions were asked, and, excepting the bit about forcing the VA to fund treatment with TRICARE providers instead of in house (which is great), vague words regarding promises and keeping the faith were given back – we got the same from the current CiC when he was campaigning in ’08. Not much concrete. Sounds like the campaign is hedging their bets to me. Either the Romney campaign hasn’t thought out their actual stance, or they’re not sure they can (or want to) deliver what vets need. Either way, I’m not very impressed.