The Truth About Military Health Care

Congress's unwillingness to reform Tricare reflects a disturbing trend in America's treatment of veterans. 

The numbers, however, do not allow for continued inaction. Increasing health-care costs in DoD’s budget mean less money for bombs, bullets and training. Fielding a military but supplying it with obsolete equipment and minimal training is the definition of a hollow force. Sensible reforms, like the ones proposed in the administration’s FY2013 budget request, will not break faith with military retirees and their families. But Congress must acknowledge that Tricare is merely a policy, part of a larger military compensation package that seeks to recruit and retain the best men and women for military service. It was never intended to become an inalienable right.

Congress’s unwillingness to reform Tricare is emblematic of larger trend in an American society still haunted by Vietnam, still coming to grips with the emergence of a small, separate caste of soldiers who does the nation’s fighting. Overcompensating for the past and seeking to support the troops with more than a bumper sticker, today’s veterans are lionized and given deference not accorded other public servants. As Andrew Bacevich recently wrote, “reward has taken its place alongside remembrance.” Having asked so little of ourselves, we justify our inaction and assuage our consciences through such praise and reward.

I joined the Marine Corps for a lot of reasons. Cheap health care wasn’t one of them.

W. Jonathan Rue, a former active-duty Marine officer, works for a small consulting firm focusing on defense policy and budgeting. He blogs at Gunpowder & Lead and can be followed on Twitter @wjrue.