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A new report by a think tank with close ties to the Obama administration suggests responsibility for military retiree health care might be more efficiently handled by the Veterans Affairs Department instead of the Pentagon.
Written by Iraq veteran Phillip Carter, the report released Friday by the Center for New American Security wrestles with how the nation can cope with the cost of benefits and health care for current and former service members.
In the report, Carter called for streamlining responsibility for military and veterans programs. "The allocation of responsibilities among these agencies and organizations reflects history and funding more than system logic," the report says.
"It is not clear, for instance, why the Department of Labor runs veterans employment programs, instead of having those programs concentrated in the VA," he says. "Similarly, it is unclear why DoD retains responsibility for military retirees' health care, instead of having that mission pass to the VA, as well."
Government reorganization has occurred in other areas, such as homeland security and intelligence, he said, but "the veterans and military manpower agencies have not evolved to the same degree, which harms the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire structure serving this community."
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, has been pushing to consolidate veterans' employment and rehabilitation programs under VA, stripping the Veterans' Employment Service from the Labor Department, but there has been no serious talk of combining veterans' and military retiree health care.
Carter is a former Army officer who served as a senior Pentagon official responsible for detainee policy. He also helped found Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He is a non-resident fellow with the nonprofit CNAS think tank that also includes other former Obama administration officials, including Michele Flournoy, the former undersecretary of defense for policy who is mentioned as a possible nominee to become the next defense secretary.
Carter calculates that the government has spent $2 trillion on military personnel and veterans programs since 2002 and that this spending is likely to rise even as the overall population of veterans declines. "With the wars winding down and the nation grappling with a $16 trillion national debt, this is unsustainable," the report says.
There are about 22 million veterans today, with the number expected to drop to about 14 million by 2032, although there will be 2.5 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The report says there could be significant costs associated with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Of the about 1.5 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have already separated from active duty, 54 percent have sought VA health care, and are seeking VA treatment at "far higher than historical rates" of previous generations of veterans, the report says.