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Romney is wrong to claim that President Obama plans cuts to health care for military retirees

In an effort to mislead Americans about President Obama’s proposal for the TRICARE program for military retirees, Mitt Romney falsely accused the President of slashing benefits for military retirees. “He’s going after TRICARE,” Romney said. “Saying, ‘Ok, we’re going to raise the co-pays. We’re going to cut the benefits.’ Why is it we go after military families?”

Romney is completely mischaracterizing the President’s proposal while ignoring the reasons why such a policy is necessary. TRICARE spending has more than doubled since 1999, with military personnel costs making up approximately 34% of the Defense Department’s annual base budget. A moderate increase in premiums would help maintain the TRICARE program’s sustainability while still making sure that military retirees pay significantly less for their coverage than comparable private or public sector options.

That’s why the Joint Chiefs and senior enlisted military leaders support the proposal, as well as quite a few Republicans. Senator Lindsey Graham said, “It’s hard to ask those who’ve done the most to secure our freedom to give more, but I’m willing to do it,” noting that “if we don’t do something in terms of health care growth and entitlement retiree benefits, you’re going to compete the retired force with operational needs and that’s just not where we want to go. Senator John McCain also supported similar cost-saving changes to TRICARE, noting that “national health care costs have risen significantly.”

To say that the President is cutting benefits for veterans and military families before all else is wholly untrue. President Obama believes we have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America and that “it’s a commitment that begins at enlistment and must never end.” Here are just a few of the ways President Obama has put veterans’ health care and well-being first:

  • President Obama boosted the Veterans Affairs budget to ensure veterans receive timely access to necessary benefits and services they’ve earned. By signing the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, the President secured funding for veterans’ medical care a year in advance so that the VA can operate with sufficient and predictable funding. His policies will help make sure that over 500,000 veterans who were previously denied care will be eligible for VA health care by 2013. Looking forward, President Obama has also requested a 10.5% increase in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs in his budget for 2013.

  • The President also put in place and improved the most generous educational benefit for veterans since the original G.I. Bill of 1944. The maximum benefit under this bill will allow veterans, service members, Reservists and National Guard members to receive an in-state, undergraduate education at a public institution at no cost.

  • Under the VOW to Hire Heroes Act signed by President Obama, businesses will receive a maximum $9,600 tax credit for hiring veterans with service connected disabilities who have been unemployed for six months or longer. The President has also proposed a Veterans Jobs Corp to put up to 20,000 veterans back to work over the next five years and has challenged businesses to hire or train 100,000 unemployed veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013.

In contrast to President Obama’s plan for veterans, Romney said his plan would be to privatize veterans’ benefits by “creating a voucher system.” Like the vouchers in his Medicare privatization plan, these vouchers, as the New York Times’ Paul Krugman points out, would “be inadequate, and become more so over time, so that veterans who don’t make enough money to top them up would fail to receive essential care.”

Romney’s plan to cut spending would force the same difficult choices that Republicans like Sen. Graham warned against. If Romney spared entitlements like Social Security and cut all other programs equally, he would have to slash veterans’ benefits by $456 billion over the next decade.