As budget shortfalls and irresponsible fiscal policies continue to plague every facet of government, morale within the United States Armed Forces is reaching considerably low levels. Consequently, the brave men and women of our nation’s all-volunteer force have voiced that reforms are urgently needed. President Obama’s partisan politics threaten to hold the reforms presented in the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) hostage until Congress identifies ways to increase non-military discretionary spending.
For years, service chiefs have testified before Congress regarding the devastating impact of the current fiscal climate on the Armed Forces. Nevertheless, the status quo has largely remained the same and led to an overwhelming crisis of morale. Since 2009, service members have indicated a steady decline in military quality of life, pay and allowances. To this effect, 91 percent of polled service members rated their quality of life as good or excellent in 2009, compared to only 56 percent in 2014. Similarly, 70 percent of service members believe that their quality of life will decline in coming years. Ever more telling, 87 percent of service members rated their military pay and allowances as good or excellent in 2009, compared to only 44 percent in 2014.
Despite the already low morale amongst service members, the Department of Defense continues to slash its budget as a result of the Budget Control Act and across the board cuts known as sequestration. In turn, military members are increasingly receiving less combat pay and re-enlistment bonuses. According to a Military Times report, “[t]he 2014 bump [in military pay raises] of just 1 percent was the smallest in the 41-year history of the all-volunteer force. That compares with 3.9 percent in 2009 — and 6.9 percent in 2002.” Likewise, special pays and incentives amongst the services are down from $6.1 billion in 2003 to just $3.8 billion in 2014.
Addressing this unfortunate reality, the House and Senate NDAAs provide sensible compensation reforms, amongst other retirement and acquisition provisions, that could greatly improve military morale without prompting a new round of sequestration. However, if President Obama follows through on his threat to veto both the NDAA and its companion appropriations bill, service members will surely not see the 2.3 percent pay increase proposed in the Senate NDAA – nor will they receive a pay check after October 1, 2015 until President Obama either signs an appropriations bill or a continuing resolution.
Although differences exist between the House and Senate NDAAs, both House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain have indicated that the NDAA will emerge out of conference sometime this week – just in time for a vote before the August recess. Both the Administration and Congress should uphold their responsibility to provide for the common defense by ensuring that the Armed Forces have the resources they need to protect U.S. interests – irrespective of any political agenda.