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On Promises Kept, Rank Our Government "Unsatisfactory"

June 27, 2008
by Tom Segel

Harlingen, Texas, June 26, 2008:  I really have a great amount of pity for those millions of poor souls who have such undying faith in the promises made by any politician, particularly those who hold national offices.  Those who swallow this “Alice in Wonderland” rhetoric will suffer the deepest cuts of all when they step back through the looking glass and view reality for the first time.

Perhaps the best available example of the “Promises Made-Promises Kept” lie can be found when viewing the health care provided for career military retirees.  Those who enlisted in the armed forces from World War II through the Korean War and well up until 1958, who elected to make the military a career were all promised health care for themselves and their dependents for life.  Recruiting literature and every reenlistment councilor promoted this free health care option continuously during all of those years.  But, the end result was not as promised.  There is limited care.  It is not free.  And the program is so stingy that a vast number of doctors and medical organizations will not even accept those who must use the program our government provides.

After 1958 the government started to weasel its way out of that “free care” obligation with changes in various regulations that called for medical services to be offered on a “space available” basis at military facilities. They also started to close many of the facilities that offered such services.  There was CHAMPUS, a program that offered limited services with co-pay to the individual service member or retiree. Those past age 65 were directed to enroll in Medicare, effectively removing them from the Department of Defense obligation to cover their medical treatment.

When the CHAMPUS method of payment became too expensive TRICARE was created. It quickly morphed into a hodge-podge or different plans, each worse than the other.  Members of Congress have also noted for the record that “A significant share of the Nation’s health care providers refuse to accept new TRICARE patients because TRICARE pays them significantly less than commercial insurance programs and imposes unique and extensive administrative requirements.”

Furthermore, TRICARE remains under the Department of Defense umbrella.  Everyone in uniform knows that DOD views retirees as an extra burden hung around its neck.  The agency feels retirees drain dollars away from the beans and bullets it needs for the active duty mission. Thus, when DOD was charged with constraining the cost of TRICARE, a major part of the department’s cost reduction effort has been to shift a larger share of those cost burdens to retired service members.

In the findings and sense of Congress section of H.R. 579 it remarks, “The beneficiary cost increases proposed by the Department of Defense fail to recognize adequately that career service members paid enormous in-kind premiums through their extended service and sacrifice.”  But, even with such a rebuking review DOD still continues attempts to circumvent existing law and congressional guidelines.

The most unacceptable TRICARE discrimination still exists for many military retirees depending upon what services they need and where on this globe they have elected to make their retirement homes.  This is particularly evident to those in the retired community who now make their homes in the Philippines.

Chief Petty Officer David Smith, United States Navy (Ret), is among the thousands of military retirees living in the Philippines who will be impacted by a bureaucratic move designed to circumvent the law as it pertains to TRICARE administration.  Department of Defense supervision, congressional oversight and the legislation that requires balanced and equal TRICARE coverage for all military personnel are completely ignored by the DOD Tricare Management Activity with a major change to its Reimbursement Manual, which will become effective on October 1, 2008.  According to Chief Smith, those retirees living in the Philippines will be relegated to a severely reduced payment status when the new instruction is implemented this fall.

TRICARE provides military retirees with a 75% government paid benefit and 25% co-pay by the patient.  It also establishes an annual $3,000 cap on what any retiree must pay out-of-pocket.  The changes inserted into the Reimbursement Manual single out those living in the Philippines for a greatly reduced benefit.  These retirees will receive less than a 50% paid benefit and the annual $3,000 catastrophic costs cap on medical payments has been totally disallowed.

Chief Robert Smith subjected his life to the many riggers of service to his nation.  His time in uniform spanned more than 20 years of his adult life, many of them hazardous.  He and many like him are now facing that time of life when heart attacks, cancer and other life threatening maladies are commonplace. So, at a time when the government he served should be keeping its promises and protecting his health, it is doing everything possible to assure he receives a bare minimum of tax supported assistance.

Smith says, that what the country seems to be telling him is, “OK, if you are very sick then move back to the USA and get care.  But, many retirees married foreign nationals and because of that, elected to stay in the Philippines.  After all, the U.S. Government sent them here, they have made it their residence, costs are low and TRICARE is here.  All are here because of economic circumstances.  The bottom line is they are no more and no less eligible for health care benefits than a retiree living in the United States.  But, TRICARE has singled out the retiree living in the Philippines and will not provide the same benefits as given to a retiree in the USA.”

Another retiree writing about unfair health care treatment is Lieutenant Colonel Paul F. Kelly, United States Army (Ret).  He has made his home in the Republic of the Philippines and is a volunteer teacher at Don Bosco College in Cebu.  He asks the question, “Is my service any less honorable because I choose to come here?  Is my service any less deserving of my retirement benefit?  Why does TMA (Tricare Management Authority) choose to limit me to less than 50% or 23% or even 5% of what a retiree living in the States gets to save his life?

“I like all the rest of my comrades under arms accepted substandard pay and sometimes substandard conditions and still remained for a life time of service.  Part of the reason I was able to choose a service career was the knowledge I would receive free for life, complete medical benefits.  It was the military’s promise to me and others like me.  They said, ‘we take care of our own.’  Well, it seems times have changed and again they have conveniently forgotten their promises.”

Sadly, the harsh TRICARE restrictions about to be leveled against LtCol Kelly, CPO Smith and all military retirees now residing in the Philippines is not a new innovation for the paper shuffling battalion in Washington.  The Department of Defense and its lackeys have a long history of attacking the funding and support for career military retirees.  In fact it would be difficult to find any evidence of that cabinet agency doing anything of a favorable nature for those who served with honor, but no longer wear a uniform.

A solution to such repeated attempts to deny promised benefits seems to be very easy to implement.  All Congress would need to do is pass legislation that would reduce appropriations to the DOD for an amount equal to what they cheated on funding any retiree, reserve, or veteran program.  The same method of reduced dollar punishment could be used on any agency that attempted any back-door method of denying what was already promised to those who served.

The irony of the Philippine situation and many others of a similar nature is, without the military retirees, reservists and veterans of this nation there would be no country for the DOD to worry about defending.  But, the mindset of most political hacks is to attack those least able to marshal any defense.  Those who fought under the Stars and Stripes, who are now old, many sick and without a formal organization to support their rights are among that body our “Promises Make – Promises Kept” politicos deem unworthy.
Semper Fidelis
Tom Segel
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