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Winnefeld Combats Disinformation on Pay, Compensation Proposals

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

No one in the Defense Department is asking for a military pay cut, nor are leaders trying to shutter commissaries, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Navy Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr. said military leaders recommend slowing the growth of pay and compensation as the services face fiscal pressures.

If Congress does not act, Winnefeld said, he and the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- all seated at the same table at the hearing -- would face the prospect of having to take money from the services’ readiness and modernization to fund compensation. This would put future service members in danger of going in harm’s way unprepared, he said.

Winnefeld said he understands that Congress wants to fund pay and compensation, because many members of Congress remember when service members were not receiving adequate compensation in the 1990s. But that is not the case today, he said.

An E-5 -- a mid-level enlisted service member -- has moved from being in the 50th percentile of civilians with comparable education and experience in 2000 to being around the 90th percentile today, the admiral said. “I don't think any of us at this table would say our people are overpaid, and we’d love to be able to maintain that level of compensation,” he added. “But if our joint force is to be sized, modernized and kept ready to fight, we’re going to have to place compensation on a more sustainable trajectory.”

The changes the chiefs propose would account for about 10 percent of DOD’s planned cuts, the vice chairman said, adding that the proposals are gradual and that the Joint Chiefs have looked at them carefully. Still, there is some “disinformation” out there, Winnefeld said.

“For example, some say we’re cutting pay,” he explained. “That's not true. We quickly eliminated any proposal, such as reducing the overseas [cost-of-living allowance], that would do that.”

Other rumors say the chiefs are reneging on promised health care benefits. Again, the vice chairman said, this is not true.

“We’re actually trying to simplify a bewildering system while incentivizing our people to help us contain costs,” the admiral said. “We will continue to provide the same high-quality health care to our troops and our retirees, and it will continue to be free to those on active duty.”

Winnefeld noted the notion that the recommended 1 percent military pay raise isn’t fair when the employment cost index is going up at about 1.8 percent. “But I would point out that our DOD civilians have just been through three years of no pay increase, and they just received 1 percent this year,” the vice chairman said.

The Internet is rife with rumors that the chiefs want to close all stateside commissaries, Winnefeld said. “We’ve never considered that in any meeting that I’ve ever attended,” he added. “In fact, we believe our commissaries are an important part of the benefits we offer our families. But we want those stores to have to work as hard as our unsubsidized exchanges in providing a good deal for our people.”

The Joint Chiefs believe the Defense Commissary Agency can find the first year’s savings through efficiencies, not price increases. “Congress should also repeal legislation, apparently lobbied for by the food industry, that prohibits the sale of generics at our commissaries, which takes money right out of our people’s pockets,” he added.

Winnefeld used a personal example to illustrate that this rule works against service members. “I recently bought a generic bottle of ibuprofen at a post exchange, which is not prohibited from carrying generics, at a 73 percent savings over the brand name that the commissary is required to carry right next door,” he said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)