Area veterans protest health-care insurance hike

    The Pentagon is working to finalize its budget proposal for 2012, and there’s talk of raising fees for Tricare, the military health insurance program. Veterans groups across the country are gearing up for a familiar fight against the increases.

    Warren George of Pemberton, N.J., is an officer with the Veterans of Foreign Wars of New Jersey. He has gone to Washington, D.C., every March for years to lobby Congress to keep military interests in mind. This year, with budget cuts looming, he said the threat of increasing fees is bigger and more real than ever.

    “To me, they’re looking for a place to save money and if you don’t get out and complain about it, you’re going to be the one they take benefits away from,” George said Monday.

    When George entered the service in 1959, he said he was promised free health care for life in exchange for his sacrifices. Saying he understands that budget cuts are going to have to hurt someone, he said inexpensive health care is part of the compensation package for military personnel.

    “To penalize these military people who give up their time and, sometimes, their life for the country, I just think it’s wrong,” George said.

    Steve Strobridge, with the group national advocacy group Military Officers Association of America, said it’s important to keep in mind why health-care costs for the military have been rising so much over the past decade. It’s not just because of generous benefits packages.

    “The Department of Defense wants to talk about how military health costs have gone up since 2000, but a large share of that cost growth has been because we’re at war,” Strobridge said.

    Tricare yearly fees, which have not gone up in a decade and a half,  remain at $460 for a family plan. The Pentagon will have to submit a budget proposal to the White House in December.

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