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Legion fights TRICARE increases

The American Legion sternly opposes plans to increase out-of-pocket health-care costs for military retirees, American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong said after learning that the White House recommends increasing TRICARE premiums and charging new annual fees to help reduce the federal deficit.

"President Obama told more than 10,000 Legionnaires at our national convention less than a month ago that the budget would not be balanced on the backs of veterans," Wong said. "Military retirees are veterans. And their benefits, including TRICARE medical insurance, cannot be milked to make ends meet. Make no mistake about it. This is an attempt to balance the budget on the backs of veterans. Military retirees are a small target in the middle of a big problem. They should not be asked to forfeit any of their health-care benefits to solve it. "

The Washington Post reported this week that the administration's deficit-reduction plan would raise TRICARE co-payments for pharmaceuticals to put them more in line with coverage provided to other federal employees and begin charging a first-ever $200 annual enrollment fees for TRICARE For Life, a Medicare supplement, beginning in 2013.

"We fully understand the federal deficit crisis, but when you start stripping benefits for military retirees, you affect more than the budget - you affect national security," Wong said. "Not only is such a reduction a breach of contract with our current military retirees, it is a disincentive for anyone willing to make a career of military service. Those who serve our nation in uniform, and swear with their lives to protect our freedoms, are not the same as ordinary government employees."

Wong added that the same argument applies to plans for a new commission to examine ways to change the current military retirement system and bring it more in line with other federal careers.

"These are not ordinary government jobs," said Wong, a retired U.S. Army chief warrant officer. "The sacrifices of those who make careers in the Armed Forces include life-threatening combat, long deployments separated from family, multiple transitions from duty station to duty station, and anything else the nation asks. America has the world's strongest military because good men and women have made commitments to careers in the military knowing they will be rewarded with a decent retirement in the end.

"Any commission examining this issue in order to reduce the cost of military retirement will inherently search for ways to reduce the value of the benefit," Wong added. "That's not good for military retirees. Moreover, it's not good for America's national security."

-30-Contact: Marty Callaghan, mcallaghan@legion.org or 202-263-5758/202-215-8644.