Hagel visits Fort Eustis, discusses defense cuts

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by 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on February 24, 2014 at 6:37 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 26 at 6:29 AM

FORT EUSTIS -- "I want to thank you, thank your families for their sacrifices," said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. "We understand those sacrifices, and we appreciate them."

A day after Hagel proposed shrinking the Army to its smallest size in 74 years, closing military bases, and making other department-wide changes to save money, he addressed local troops.

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"A focus on taking care of people was at the top of the list as we balanced, as we prioritized, as we tried to sort through how we're going to do this, readiness, capability," explained Hagel. "The people are the soul. They're the heart. They make an institution work."

Hagel said the proposed Pentagon budget beginning Fiscal Year 2015 chops $31 billion in the first year and $45 billion in the second.

Portions of the proposal include capping pay raises at 1 percent, phasing out the full subsidy on housing and gradually having people pay up to 5 percent out of pocket, and increasing TRICARE co-pays for family members and working-age retirees.

"Average on retirees today is somewhere in the area of 8 percent out of pocket. What we're proposing over a number of years is that that would go to 11 percent out of pocket," said Hagel. "It wouldn't change active-duty members. It wouldn't change your preferred providers or you lose any rights. It wouldn't change the quality. It consolidates 3 different TRICARE systems into one."

Reacting to Hagel's proposal, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said, he has some concerns about the Pentagon proposals on military benefits and compensation and isn't sure base closings are necessary.

"As we draw down our overseas footprint, I believe we should look at overseas facilities first before even considering another BRAC round for domestic installations,” he told 13News Now.

Sen. Warner is pleased the Pentagon is committed to the 11-carrier fleet and to maintaining funding for USS George Washington and its air wing through the end of FY15, and its full refueling is scheduled to continue.

However, Sen. Warner said Congress must find a way to avoid damaging automatic sequestration spending cuts past FY15.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1st D) said he has serious concerns about where the Administration is placing its priorities when it comes to our nation’s national security.

"We must not and cannot balance the budget on the backs of our military men and women. For the United States military to adapt to the more volatile, unpredictable world referenced by Secretary Hagel, our nation’s defense budget should be driven by strategy, not numbers. We are approaching 13 straight years of our all-volunteer force serving in a wartime posture. As we draw down from Afghanistan, and continue to reset from Iraq, it is essential that we get the reset and retrograde of our forces correct."

"Secretary Chuck Hagel's Defense budget preview highlights the budget quagmire we have gotten ourselves into by prioritizing unaffordable tax cuts over addressing sequestration.”said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd D).

“I am most concerned with the Secretary's statement that if sequestration is not fully addressed the Department will have to seriously consider retiring the George Washington, which would cancel her midlife refueling and overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding. I am also concerned that the Department is requesting changes to military compensation and reducing the federal contribution to military commissaries, which may have serious impacts on troop morale, retention, and recruitment.”

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