Re:”The Pentagon’s Achilles’ heel: Health care for retirees” (TNT, 3-16).
Lawrence Korb’s article does not paint the whole picture. Because military retirees age 65 and older were kicked out of the military health system in 1995, they initiated a lawsuit decided by the U.S. Appeals Court in 2002 against them.
In 1956, Congress changed wording in U.S. Code from “shall provide” free medical care for 20 or more years of service to “may provide on a space/capability.”
The court found Congress did not acquiesce to promise of free health care, and military members had no contract with the government. Therefore the military had no right to make the offer. It acknowledged the promise was made, understood and relied upon by the retirees, but only Congress could provide a remedy.
In 2001, by enacting TRICARE for Life for retirees over age 65 as a supplement to Medicare, the promise was partially fulfilled. It’s not free, costing a retiree couple $2,316 in Part B Medicare payments.
The military made the promise up to 1993 that Congress in its role as overseer did nothing to stop. Mostly aimed at retention of those the military had invested millions of dollars training, it saved the government billions by eliminating the necessity to recruit and train replacements.
The retiree population is made up of 28 percent officer/72 percent enlisted with an average pension of $25,817.98. Many of the elderly retirees’ pensions are half as much – a far cry from the $50,000 Korb cited.