The Great Benefits Question

rows of $100 bills

If the benefits of joining the military – healthcare, housing allowances, pay raises and a good retirement, for example – were different, would your family still be in?

This is the question that I’ve been chewing over today after reading through an Army Times story (not available online at the moment – will update with a link when it is) by my good friend Rick Maze on potential benefits changes being mulled by the defense world.

While few (if any) of the benefit changes being discussed would impact current troops, future servicemembers could face a variety of different possibilities thanks to budget cuts. These include a “cafeteria plan” that would give future troops the option of “lower basic pay today, with the promise of early and generous retirement benefits. Or, they could choose higher basic pay with reduced or delayed retirement benefits,” Maze writes.

Now, to be clear, anything like this would face a big fight on Capitol Hill and, like I said above and Maze points out, probably wouldn’t impact current servicemembers.

But it did get me thinking about my military life. If the benefits weren’t so dandy and the glow of 20-year retirement at the end of the tunnel weren’t so bright, would I put up long term with the these about this lifestyle that are hard to deal with after awhile … Like deployment, and long TDYs, and all those other things spouses should earn merit badges for?

Truly, it is called “service” for a reason. But that doesn’t mean the benefits our government chooses to give us don’t make it a little more palatable, and, frankly, worth putting up with when things get really, super stressful.

But I ask you: if the benefits weren’t so dandy, would you love this military life (or, at least, try to love it) as much as you do?

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • I think without the benefits, it wouldn’t be worth it to us for him to stay active duty. My husband’s been in for 8 and a half years and frequently says that he’ll stay in only as long as it’s convenient and beneficial for him. If it gets to a point where he can get better benefits/make more money/not deploy every other month etc, he’ll join the civilian working world — but I think he loves the Navy to a point that he would likely still serve in the Reserve regardless of the benefits.

  • David Russo

    Personally I have just enlisted in the Army, for the fact that in the civilian world, working 2 jobs I can not make enough to make ends meet and save anything for my kids to go to college when it is their time to, in about 14 years. . . however, without the benefits the sheer fact remains that within the 12+ years I have worked in construction having been laid off about as many times. . . I think the stability and gradual pay increases would benefit us to the point that it still would make sense to say in 20+ years

  • Jeanie Grace

    My husband will hit his 12 year mark in 2012… we have gone back and forth about him getting out or staying. I am convinced that he is in the least family friendly branch, the Marine Corps. After thinking it over, there is just no way that he can get out. The benefits keep us in. In the civilian world, IF he can find a job, he will definitely take a pay cut… and within that pay, we will have to pay for our housing, food, other bills etc… we will have to hope to get decent health insurance that we would certainly be paying into…
    I work, but my income just supplements our household. I could certainly do without all of the deployments… but I think we are ready to ride out the next 8 years, and then enjoy life!

  • Heather

    Back in ’95 when we got married we were both Specialists in the Army. My husband was coming up on his ETS and actually got to the point of picking up his clearing papers. But, he came home and was really wondering if it was the right thing to do. We didn’t think about our housing or medical benefits at that time, we were thinking about our car payment, food on our table and being able afford the lifestyle we were enjoying. lol We thought we were rolling in the dough as two E-4’s. ;) Anyway, once we started having kids, yes, medical became a big reason, then when he hit the 10 year mark it was weighing the pro’s and con’s. He only had an associate degree at that point, baby #2 was on the way, and he sure didn’t want to get out and work at Jiffy lube. So, he stayed. Now at 20 years we are glad he did, but I do think maybe if some of those things were not available it would have had more weight on whether we stayed or not.

  • R. Alvarez

    As a veteran who left the military after one 4 year term, I wonder what kind of money the DOD could save if the eliminated commissaries, PX’s, Base Movie theaters, and other “soft” benefits. Very few bases nowadays are in areas without a Safeway or Walmart near. How about providing medical insurance, like Kaiser, rather than medical services for military families in the CONUS ? Get rid of Class 6/Package Beverage stores and consolidate the club systems, IF they cost the DOD? Dump all take home cars for ranking Officers. I don’t know for sure if any of these ideas would save a nickel, but better than cutting pay and retirement benefits in my mind.

    And last, bring home most of our our troops stationed in Western Europe, Japan and Korea.

    • Amy

      We’ve actually been talking a lot about the idea to eliminate the commissary — or at least combine the commissary with the exchange system. It’s being discussed on Capitol Hill, but commissary advocates point out that because the commissary is absolutely necessary OCONUS where it actually looses money, having them stateside helps foot the bill.

      • alex

        I agree about the needed commissary benefits OCONUS, however, would a COLA increase just be a better alternative. I know that there would b ea great loss of great American goods, however, as we are shrinking OCONUS, it would not affect as many people as it once did.

  • Abby

    We would definitely not stay in if it weren’t for the generous benefits. The guaranteed retirement, GI bill (passed to kids), and healthcare are the main reasons we put up with all the negatives. No way would hubby have re-enlisted last time if “making 20” wasn’t so financially enticing. If retirement were more like TSP, we would finish up the current shore duty and get out before he had to deploy again. It wasn’t too bad before we had kids or even with one child under a year, but there needs to be a pretty big carrot dangling to endure a deployment when the kids understand and really miss their dad. Thankfully, we’re close enough to the end that we’ll probably only deploy once more.

  • Jet

    20 years goes by very quickly and from someone who retired 26 years ago it was well worth it.
    If just for the health care benifits I would have stayed in for 30 years. You younger folks should
    realize that as you age you will have health problems. The saveings we see just in R/x drugs
    is thousands of dollars a year. I lost my civilian jobs several times but always had my retirement
    check to get us by until the next job came up. I could list many other benifits but as I look back
    I can see that 20 years invested in a worry free future was the best decision I could have ever
    made and I was only a E-6. After retirement I went to college and never had to worry about how
    to pay for it. Over the years I met countless veterans who wished they would have did 20 like I

  • No. Because at the end of the day, any one of our service members could give their life for their job. There aren’t very many civilian jobs that ask you to do that. I think Congress needs to take a long and hard look at what they’re taking from the system vs. what they have given before taking from the military.

  • Logic Mine

    Really, if you have to ask, then you need to go soak your head in the nearest toilet bowl. I mean, let’s look at the very question in itself.
    “If the benefits of joining the military – healthcare, housing allowances, pay raises and a good retirement, for example – were different, would your family still be in?”

    First, you use the word “different” in a cryptic deceiving way; thereby, not defining “different” as in “changing for MORE or BETTER benefits” or “changing for LESS or WORSE benefits”.

    Obviously, you must believe we are nothing but STUPID and/or are too pre-occupied with us doing our jobs so we will be at a disadvantage anyways to take the time and peruse any contract changes.

    Let me ask YOU the same question and (by same manner…insult YOUR intelligence right back), would YOU stay in YOUR job if its benefits changed?

    Fine, now let’s say that the change was that all your benefits were lost. (See, that’s a direct question without any deception and on the up and up.) I suggest you start asking the RIGHT questions if your intention is honest.

  • Rene’

    My husband has been in 16+ years, currently on his 5 th deployments, 1 non life threatening injury, and one serious injury. We have thought long and hard about what to do in 3 years. My heart says get out, our marriage has suffered enough. In the last 14 yrs he has been away 9yrs 8 mon and that is no way to keep a family together. The fact we have made it this far beats the odds. So why do we stay in if it is so damaging to heart and soul? Simply put, we can’t afford to live in the civilian world. I have a degree, but being a military wife, I can’t get a local company to invest in me and I’m not a veteran so can’t get a GS job. He is infantry and to make as much as we do now with all the benefits he would need to do contracting and would still go overseas. I don’t even think he will get out at 20, the army is his life and I just tag along. If we had it to do all over again we would still have made the same choices but if the benefits were cut, I don’t know if it would be worth the lost time and memories.

  • russtherush

    This is infuriating to me to see some of these comments. Do the American Armed service members have no patriotism whatsoever? Did everyone simply sign up for a job? The military is more than just waiting for the 1st and 15th, at least to me it is. This lifestyle is a sacrifice for which we ALL agreed upon when signing the contract of enlistment into the armed services (which I’m sure 99% have not). I enlisted with a contract to do Naval Special Warfare and just got performanced dropped on my second time a few months back. I’m back to fixing helicopters, a job I rather do not like. However, my wife would support me sacrificing a paygrade if it meant another opportunity to go back! Why? Because we’re patriots, just like our founding fathers were, just like their sons and daughters were.

    • Jacob

      Same here.I just joined the Marines and my mom said “They are cutting all the benefits!” I told her I dont care if all they give me is my small paycheck and take all my benefits away,I still want to serve because I love my country.It is an honor to serve.

      • Jeff

        Tell me that in 15 years!

        • buck

          Young and not smart, I used to be a recruiter and sold that whole idea of ” Its the PRIDE of being a Marine” no matter what mos you get, it’s the PRIDE man. The truth slaps you in the face after a few years when your body is broken and following close behind your mind. Then BENEFITS BECOME IMPORTANT- You might have to suffer with an ailment for the rest of your life. Once you are no longer on Active duty you are almost invisible….

  • russtherush

    This nation wasn’t founded on how much of a paycheck the soldiers got from fighting the Brits way back when. Did you know that many of the colonial militia were simply just farmers and country folk, book keepers, lawyers, brick layers, pastors, so on and so forth? Why did they fight? Certainly not because of the benefits which we so greedily lavish ourselves with today! If you need me or someone else to tell you why they fought, sweat, cried, bled, lost body parts, and paid the ultimate sacrifice, then you are the reason this nation is weak. Even the soldiers of the Second World War were just as patriotic in some instances as some who were denied enlistment in the armed services committed suicide.

  • mike

    It all depends how much money our Chinese masters allow us.of course

  • MIKE

    Ron Paul will close the UNCONSTITUTIONAL BASES OVERSEAS…hopefully he will start with RACIST,ANTI-AMERICAN SOUTH KOREA..

  • MIKE


  • Dale

    If we eliminated retirement we could double basic pay and break even.

  • M. Jackson

    And speaking about benefits, us older folks were promised medical care for remainder of our lives – that promise was negated several years ago. But what I am really interested in is when will retiree widows be given the benefit of flying Space A.

  • ninjacoolgirl2004

    Oh no I would love it if they paid us nothing and we lived in caves. (she says sarcastically) Of course I wouldn’t love it as much if benefits were cut. Some cuts would mildly irritate me, others (like insurance and pay) would be deal breakers. That’s just the way it is.

  • Mills

    I retired more than 10 years ago with 24 yrs in service. We were married for 21 of those years when I retired and figured that we’d spent about 11 together. I joined when I was 27, a little older than most, and one of the reasons was for the retirement at the end of 20. I probably would have joined at any rate for at least one tour, but wouldn’t have stayed without the benefits.
    At this point in our married life we find the benefits of immense help in maintaining a lifestyle to which we want to remain accustomed.
    The medical, the funds, the ability to enjoy our lives now compared to before made the time in service more palatable than just a few bucks at the end of month.