Proposal to cut deficit could mean big cuts in military health care

A proposal to cut the deficit could mean big cuts in military health care (WRDW-TV/ Nov. 18,2 011)

A proposal to cut the deficit could mean big cuts in military health care (WRDW-TV/ Nov. 18,2 011)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Friday, Nov. 18, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- For Vietnam veteran David Myer, the 25 years he spent in the Army was to preserve our freedom.

In return, Uncle Sam gave Myer something back called TRICARE. It's a program the Department of Defense created back in the 90s that provides healthcare to vets and their dependents.

"It's treated both me and my wife both very well," said Myer, a member of American Legion Post 178 off Windsor Spring Road in Augusta.

Now, some politicians are putting part of the program on the chopping block. It's all about lowering the national deficit.

"The budget has got to be balanced, but they're trying to do it on the back of the military," said Oscar Sims, commander of Post 178.

Sims doesn't use TRICARE, but he knows a lot of vets who do. He says many stayed in the military just to get those benefits.

"They get that 20-year mark, and that used to be one of the best things there was going," he said.

The whole idea comes from a Congressional Budget Office report that Sen. John McCain and others are supporting. It would aim to push vets out of the popular TRICARE Prime program and push them into the TRICARE Standard program. The bottom line is that it'll mean a lot more out-of-pocket payments for vets.

"It's a big change. You know, if you were to eliminate Prime, TRICARE Prime, that's eliminating a major program. It's something that you plan your life around," said Jim Lorraine, executive director of the Augusta Warrior Project.

Lorraine says he hopes Washington reaches a compromise.

Congressman John Barrow, D-Ga., tells us he hopes they do, too, but he does not support cutting TRICARE benefits.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cut will save about $111 billion over 10 years, but in that same CBO report, it says the cut of Prime could also "adversely affect military retention."

The report also says a retiree using a civilian-employment option generally pays $5,200 a year in premiums. A retiree using TRICARE Prime pays just $860 a year in out-of-pocket costs. The CBO also estimates the number of people using TRICARE solely will drop from 71 to just 35 percent.

Local veterans say it's an issue they will take to the polls next year.

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