Tuesday, April 13, 2004

US Military Families on Food Stamps

God Bless America:

Market forces ensure that a volunteer army will necessarily be an army of the poor. The trouble is, enlistment does not do a whole lot to brighten one's economic outlook. Frontline battle troops, most of whom have been in the military for about a year, earn less than $16,000 a year--which puts them at about the level of theater ushers and Wal-Mart clerks. Even second lieutenants, at a starting salary of $26,000 a year, earn less than pest control workers and shoe repairers. So when the Bush Administration, in its frenzied rush to transfer more wealth to the already wealthy, hurts the working poor, you can count the troops among them. The 2003 Bush tax cut for the rich, for example, failed to extend a child tax credit to nearly 200,000 military personnel.

Well, they get all kinds of special benefits, don't they, like free housing and medical care? Yes, and that's a powerful attraction to the young men and women of America's working poor. But no one should confuse the U.S. military with a Swedish-style welfare state. The mother of a Marine reports that her son had to charge nearly $1,000 on her Visa card for items not issued by the military, like camouflage paint and socks. In 2003, Defense Department overseas schools for the children of military personnel closed a week early due to a lack of funds.

You might imagine that our "war President," as he styles himself, would be in a rush to enrich the frontline troops, but last August his Administration proposed to cut the combat pay bonus of $150 a month. Somebody must have pointed out that an election year was just around the corner, because this little trial balloon was quietly punctured. In fact, the 2005 budget offers to double the military death benefit received by families of the fallen from $6,000 to $12,000.

Sounds good. In fact, it may make death financially preferable to surviving in a damaged state. Bizarrely enough, veterans' disability benefits are deducted from their military retirement pay, giving the wounded a powerful incentive to die while they're young. The sorry condition of VA health services seems designed to accomplish the same thing, and those services are about to get a lot more inaccessible. In his 2005 budget, Bush proposes to raise veterans' health care costs--through increased drug co-payments and a new "enrollment fee"--thus driving an estimated 200,000 vets out of the system and discouraging another million from enrolling.

Read every word of this article then vote.

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