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Pentagon cost cutting could affect retirement, health care and housing for future troops

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Posted at 7:24 PM, Dec 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-02 19:24:59-05

Getting your retirement pay at age 60 instead of immediately after you leave service? Closing military hospitals, instead sending military families and retirees into the private sector for care?

Both are just a few of the big ideas being tossed around by the new “Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission,” to cut the growing "human" costs in the Pentagon's budget.

“The military is such unique institution, and if you come too far out of the box, it doesn’t react very well,” said Congressman Stephen Buyer, a member of the commission, created by the FY2013 Defense Authorization Act.

At a public town hall in Norfolk, members of the commission heard straight from those who serve about how to change pay and benefits without alienating military families.

“Military families are concerned about access to health care for their children, they are concerned about education benefits,” said Vice Admiral Michael Connor, Commander for Naval Submarine Forces.

The battle over Tricare and out-of-pocket health care costs has raged for years, and commanders say families won't mind changing the system, as long as the quality and cost of treatment doesn't change.

“Whether their needs can be met in a military treatment facility, or effectively met somewhere else,  I don’t think that matters to them,” said VADM Connor.

When talk turned, though, to tossing out the current 20-year retirement system and making way for a more corporate-style plan, officers warned of the consequences.

“The ‘nest and vest’ mentality in the private sector does not work with our business,” said VADM Connor, who says it would lead to experienced leaders possibly choosing not to re-enlist.

The panel stressed all current retirees and those on active duty would be grandfathered into the current system and would be able to decide on their own if they want to join the new system.

The commission's recommendations will be given to President Obama and Congress next May to be considered before adopting the 2014 Defense budget.