“Provide for common defense” is a core constitutional obligation of the federal government. Yet entitlement spending is putting unsustainable pressure on the defense budget.

In 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security constituted 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) while defense made up 7.4 percent. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that entitlement spending will reach 9.7 percent of GDP in 2012 while defense will shrink to 4.5 percent—even after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are included. (article continued below chart)

The defense budget is further threatened from within by the growing costs of military health care, as the Pentagon has built a system that is increasingly flawed.

The men and women who serve and have served in uniform and their families deserve quality health care. The Heritage Foundation’s Saving the American Dream Plan provides a blueprint for military health care reform that enables military personnel to enjoy the opportunity to tailor their benefits to match their individual circumstances while saving the Department of Defense at least $39.424 billion over five years.

As Heritage’s Baker Spring argues, the changes should:

  • Ensure that the military health care system adequately supports military operations and deployments;
  • Never compromise on the quality of health care for service members, retirees, and their families;
  • Honor the obligations to those now serving, allowing them retain programs or transition to other options if they prefer;
  • Provide services that offer choices and flexibility; and
  • Facilitate a “continuum of service,” enabling volunteers to move back and forth between active and reserve service and civilian employment—ensuring portability of care for members and their families.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) makes it yet more difficult for the Pentagon to keep America safe. Caps on spending for national security and discretionary spending mandated by the law over the next 10 years translate into inadequate defense budgets in the future. The BCA automatic sequestration cuts would hit defense hardest. (article continued below chart)

Congress, in cooperation with the Administration, should stop sequestration to defense and reform military health care systems by making them defined-contribution plans while still honoring the government’s obligations to service members.