Joining the military has its perks, but the value of those benefits is at risk.

Serving in a military job is unlike any other. Day-to-day, employees are asked to put the welfare of the nation before their own to defend and uphold the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.

The Commander-in-Chief recognized the importance of that duty during an Aug. 17 speech to the Veteran's of Foreign Wars "...let us never forget we are a country of more than 300 million Americans. Less than one percent wears the uniform. And that one percent - our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen - have borne the overwhelming burden of our security. In fact, perhaps never in American history have so few protected so many."

In addition to providing security and fighting the nation's wars, the President compared servicemembers to mayors who run local governments, aid workers who build new schools and diplomats who negotiate agreements with tribal sheikhs and local leaders.

As they secure the nation and continuously learn and adapt to new missions, one would assume that their paychecks would reflect their "overwhelming burden" and extensive resumes, but servicemembers don't even come close to bringing home the nation's highest salaries.

A new private earns less than $1,400 a month in basic pay. That's only $350 per week or $8.75 an hour before taxes. In comparison, a college graduate, who enters as a commissioned officer, earns $2,600 per month, which equates to $650 per week or $16.25 per hour before taxes.

According to a June 2007 report out of the Congressional Budget Office, what attracts and retains military personnel is a competitive compensation package "one that adequately rewards servicemembers for the rigors of military life."

That package includes benefits like housing and food allowances, tax advantages, special pay for working in extreme conditions or specialized fields and comprehensive health care.

With those benefits, a single E-1's cash compensation jumps to $29,700 per year and their non-cash compensation is equivalent to $25,300, according to the CBO data compiled in 2006. For married servicemembers in the ranks of E-1 to E-6, the value of their non-cash compensation is actually greater than their cash benefits.

As Americans and their elected officials heatedly debate how to implement universal health care, the value of that compensation for the U.S. military is left out of the equation.

The 1,018-page nation-wide health care bill proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives is designed to "provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans."

However, according to pages 73-77 of the bill, servicemembers and their dependents won't be eligible to obtain coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange because they already have "acceptable coverage."

That "acceptable coverage" is hard-earned, and shouldn't be taken lightly.

Servicemembers have to look into their children's eyes and explain why they won't be home for six months. They have to tell their spouses who just got settled into new jobs and new neighborhoods that it's time to pack up and move again. They have to look into the scratched-up locker-size mirrors hanging from their cots in the desert and tell themselves they're going to make it through another battle.

What will non-military recipients of the new health plan sacrifice to earn their care'

Under general military law for personnel regarding medical and dental care, U.S. Code 10, Section 1071, Chapter 55 states that its purpose is "to create and maintain high morale in the uniformed services by providing an improved and uniform program of medical and dental care for members and certain former members of those services and for their dependents."

Extending medical care to all Americans could similarly create and maintain high morale to the entire nation. While that might be beneficial on the surface, the benefits to the military need to be considered and compensated should that happen.

Virtually every healthy American between the ages of 17 and 42 who meets basic requirements is eligible to receive free medical and dental care for themselves and their families, so long as they enlist in the U.S. military. And they can continue to receive similar health care upon retirement.

For those who don't qualify to serve, those Americans who brave their own personal battlefields as they combat diseases like cancer, an alternate solution is rational, but by offering health care at little or no cost to Americans qualified to serve their country, what is the message to the men and women in uniform'

If their benefit is shared to the entire nation, shouldn't their "overwhelming burden" of securing the nation also be shared'

Fortunately, the men and women of America's military don't serve just for the perks. They are "Army Strong," "Above All" and among "The Few, The Proud." They protect the nation because of their inner commitment to duty, purpose and honor.

But, sharing their benefits is essentially like sharing their salaries. They are already willing to share their lives. Is it right to ask them to sacrifice even more'

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16