|Analysis: U.S. can't afford its military
Since the start of the Iraq War in 2003 the number of overweight and obese US military has doubled, in keeping with the national trend but also due to the stress of deployment, a Pentagon study said. "In the past decade among active military members in general, the percent of military members who experienced medical encounters for overweight/obesity has steadily increased; and since 2003, rates of increase have generally accelerated," said the report published in January. In 1998, the number of military personnel diagnosed overweight or obese stood at 25,652, or 1.6 percent of the entire armed forces. In 2003, it increased to 34,333 (2.1 percent), and from then to 2008 the number doubled to 68,786 (4.4 percent of the total). A 2005 poll of the US military established that "stress and return from deployment were the most frequently cited reasons for recent weight gain," the report said. The US military has shown signs of overall exhaustion after years of deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. And beside weight gain, the US Army has seen a sharp increase in suicides that hit a record 143 in 2008, compared to 115 the year before. The weight increase of US servicemen and women reflects the weight-gaining tendency of the general US population, where 20 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds are considered obese. As with the civilian population, the rise in obesity among the military is largely blamed on fast food and physically passive recreational activities including videogames, television and movies, the study said. "Overweight/obesity is a significant military medical concern because it is associated with decreased military operational effectiveness ... and both acute and chronic adverse health effects," the Pentagon report said.
by Shaun Waterman
Washington (UPI) Feb 11, 2009
With the combined cost of the economic stimulus package and the Wall Street bailout now projected by some estimates to top $2 trillion, and the federal deficit spiraling, U.S. officials are fretting that current levels of defense spending may be unsustainable.
Moreover, military leaders argue that they will need more money in future years to repair or replace equipment worn out or destroyed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; transform the force to fight modern wars; and invest in new generations of high-tech weaponry.
"The spigot of defense spending that opened on Sept. 11 is closing," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a hearing last month of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, defense spending currently constitutes more than half of U.S. domestic discretionary spending -- that is, the part of the federal budget that is not spent on mandatory items like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. That is about 4.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product -- more than double the proportion of national wealth most other industrialized countries spend on defense.
In absolute terms, the CBO says, Fiscal Year 2008 defense spending, adjusted for inflation, is now 20 percent more than it was in 1985 -- at the height of the Cold War military buildup -- and has risen 43 percent since its lowest post-Cold War level in 1998.
Yet although the military is much smaller than it was at that time, service chiefs projected last year that they will need continuing annual growth to maintain force readiness -- even accounting for the gradually falling cost of smaller U.S. deployments in Iraq.
"Quite bluntly," analyst Stephen Daggett of the non-partisan Congressional Research Service told a little-noticed hearing of the House Budget Committee last week, "the cost of everything we have been doing in defense has been accelerating upward too fast even for growing budgets to keep up."
Daggett in his prepared testimony listed several reasons for the explosive growth in the cost of the U.S. military.
First, personnel costs have spiraled. The "average military service member is about 45 percent more expensive, after adjusting for inflation, in Fiscal Year 2009 than in FY 1998," he said. Figures he presented showed that, although congressionally mandated increases in pay and benefits have grown by 30 percent more than inflation in that period, fully one-third of the total increase is down to the expanding costs of healthcare for military retirees under the "TRICARE for life" program.
And in the future, J. Michael Gilmore of the CBO told the same hearing his agency projected "needed funding for the military medical system (including care for both veterans and serving personnel) is growing seven, eight times more than rapidly than Â… costs as a whole" for the Defense Department -- and will more than double to $90 billion a year by 2026.
Daggett also identified two elements related to the ballooning costs of major weapons systems, like the Air Force's new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter