"When addressing grass roots attitudes about the powerful and privileged elite of Washington, there is nothing that stirs the ire of the military community more than the name David Chu...”
Harlingen, Texas, April 14, 2007: There are some important words that are burned deeply into the minds of everyone who served in the uniform of our country. It matters not if they are active duty or retired military, or those veterans who answered the call to arms for a few years of their lives, everybody recalls, “In order to make sure morale is high with those who wear the uniform today, we must keep our commitment to those who wore the uniform in the past. We will make sure promises made to our veterans will be promises kept.” It was the pre-inaugural statement made on January 19, 2001 by President-elect George W. Bush. Less than six months later he appointed, and the Senate confirmed, David C. H. Chu as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. He remains in that Department of Defense (DOD) office today.
It is quite significant that those important words of promise by the Commander in Chief be linked to the individual he selected for this specific office. It is an office of great power in an arena filled with nothing but privileged individuals. It is also a position from which a designated administration attack-dog operates to the determent of the entire military community.
Though David Chu claims combat veteran status, the reality of his service as an Army officer is limited to two years, divided by a year as an instructor at the United States Army Logistics Management Center in Virginia and a tour of duty in the Vietnam Headquarters of the First Logistical Command, where he worked in the Office of the Controller. It is obvious that in this limited world of mathematics and number counting, Chu failed to develop any people skills, understanding about keeping promises, or sense of brotherhood with those who served in defense of our country.
Why is this personal observation important? Specifically because it has been proven by Chu’s words and actions during his years of government service. Since his appointment to this office, Chu has never even attempted to hold up the banner on behalf of any veteran or military retiree action. He tried to suspend reenlistment bonuses, argued against all targeted pay increases for NCOs, fought against increases in hazard and danger pay and tried to keep all increases out of Separation Pay. He was the voice of denial for the administration on almost every issue related to promised medical entitlements, and attempted to have the government continue its more than 100 year practice of denying disabled military retirees their disability compensation along with their retired pay.
When addressing grass roots attitudes about the powerful and privileged elite of Washington, there is nothing that stirs the ire of the military community more than the name David Chu. Any call for comments from veterans concerning his remarks or actions will generate email comments by the hundreds. However, most remarks are so vitriolic and intense they are unsuitable to be placed in print.
Charles Northington is a retired United State Public Health Service Captain who seems to feel Chu has a role similar to many a Chief of Staff known to military personnel on active duty. That Chief of Staff was the voice of bad news or unpopular orders on many military bases. By taking such actions in his own right, he gave cover to a Commander who did not want to be viewed by his units with disfavor.
Says Northington, “Dr. Chu deserves all the scorn military retirees and dependents heap upon him. The many ugly and hurtful remarks he has made and the way he has said them in public needs to be erased.”
“Let me make a few comments that may shed some light on why Dr. Chu has been so ugly and nasty toward retirees and dependents”, he says. “Basically it stems from the budgetary process and power of the Office of Management and Budget. (The White House office responsible for the President’s budget) There is not much the other bureaucrats can do to persuade OMB to revise or loosen up their budgetary dictates. As an example, we all know that recent legislation ‘requires’ that certain funds for retirees be funded from the Treasury. Regardless of this requirement OMB dictates that the funds continue to be paid out of the DSOD budget...
“So where can DOD go for relief? “ asks Northington. “ One way is to secretly appeal to Congress. This sometimes works. A second way is to threaten certain vocal groups and interests. This is an old remedy used at all levels of government. For instance, if I tell my wife that she has to cut back on her household spending, the first things to go are my favorite foods, drinks, activities, etc. For cities it is the most visible and necessary programs, like fire fighters, police, parks and swimming pools in the summer.
“What I suspect is that top bureaucrats in DOD may be using retirees and dependents as their whipping boy, in an effort to get us to attract the attention of Congress to the shortfalls and what may be given up.”
The case for attracting the attention of Congress is debatable. The case for arousing anger in the military community is not. What causes this anger? According to Colonel Harry Riley, U.S. Army (ret), it is because Mr. Chu, without rational justification, makes broad and sweeping statements identifying military retiree benefits as the enemy of our active force.”
Chu has testified, “Benefits that apply mainly to retirees and their families are making it harder for the Pentagon to afford financial incentives for today’s military.” Other remarks include, “Congress has gone too far in expanding military retiree benefits.” Because of this burden he says “They are starting to crowd out two things: First, our ability to reward the person who is bearing the burden right now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, they are undercutting our ability to finance the new gear that is going to make that military person successful five, ten, fifteen years from now.”
Another trigger for retiree anger is Chu’s recommendation that Tricare fees be raised from 50% to 270% for those under age 65 and raise pharmacy co-pay by 67% for all beneficiaries.
Retired Air Force Master Sergeant Jim Whittington asks, “Where was Chu 24 years ago when I raised my right hand and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States of America. I ended up serving 20 years in assignments both overseas and stateside. During that time I moved my family eight times and was separated from them due to deployments for nearly four years. Now having served my hitch, and seeking the benefits promised and contracted to me, Chu labels me a burden and obstacle to current readiness.”
Whittington’s final thought is, “Dr. Chu said a 19 year-old doesn’t care about retirement; he wants a Pickup Truck! Was there a survey issued by DOD to the troops?...Pickup Truck vs. Retirement? Or is Dr. Chu just taking advantage of troops busy fighting a war and maybe their naiveness of politics at a young age?”
Active duty military personnel are expected to refrain from any remarks that could be construed as political statements. That doesn’t keep them from being upset by anyone in civilian leadership who attacks those who wear or have worn the uniform. One such individual is Michael Oshiki, a Lieutenant Colonel and a medical doctor now serving another tour of duty in Iraq. He sees David Chu’s repeated attacks on veterans and retirees as being particularly noxious. “As a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, I obviously must respect my superiors. My observations are personal ones as a citizen and taxpayer and do not represent any official position. I am in Iraq on my fourth combat deployment, and I can safely say from an informed position that there are PLENTY of ways to save money by cutting wasteful spending in this deployed environment, any of which would be infinitely preferable to penalizing those military members that qualify for disability payments and serve though retirement.”
The doctor observes that David Chu seems to have “this apparent lack of awareness regarding the sacrifices service members make and the inequity with regard to civil servants.” He finds it “particularly surprising from an Under Secretary who started his career of service to the nation as an Army officer in Vietnam. The more general attitude, however, seems to be very much in line with the culture of arrogance displayed by the civilian leadership at DOD toward the uniformed military members that was fostered during Mr. Rumsfeld’s tenure as Secretary.”
Writing to me for an earlier commentary, Major General Earl G. Peck, USAF (ret) also had some serious observations about Dr. Chu’s conduct. “The point Dr. Chu misses is that honoring the solemn obligations of our nation to veterans makes a direct contribution to national security even if he chooses to ignore the moral strictures that bind us to promises. Having served more than 36 years on active duty and with six sons who have served or are serving in the armed forces, I can testify that every failure to honor those obligations diminishes the value of a military career to those who are serving and those who might serve in the future. If through misguided parsimony we are no longer able to attract the right people, we can’t provide for the security of the nation.”
Already thousands from the military community have written to the White House and Congress concerning the refusal of both branches of government to honor promises made to those who served their country in it’s times of need. These same veterans and retirees have also been unrelenting in their disgust with the Administration’s continued sanctioning of David Chu’s attacks. Many more are expressing their rage on the Internet and in print. But, that will be the subject of another article.