Chapter 15 – Looking-Glass Insects
This is not a short or easy article. But gaining a solid understanding of the complex public policy issues at stake in the debate over private security contractors / mercenaries (your choice) is not as easy as watching a glib 90-second video full of sweeping pronouncements and cutesy taglines.
Slog through this article, and you’ll not only know more about compensation than most actual military or PSC pay clerks, but The Rabbit will reveal what rumor has it is the actual compensation figure for Blackwater contractors.
As you read this, please keep in mind that this is not a competition or a rant about who is "worth more," but rather an analysis of who costs more.
“I shall dream about a thousand pounds tonight, I know I shall!” thought
The standard and most frequent claim has long been that private security contractors, and “Blackwater mercenaries” in particular, make “$1,000 a day, far more than active-duty soldiers, which destroys military morale.”
Where does such a claim originate?
Not surprisingly, Jeremy Scahill promoted it heavily on places like Democracy Now! (“These guys are making $1,000-plus a day in
But it was picked up by traditional media such as the Los Angeles Times (“Many of these contractors make up to $1,000 a day, far more than active-duty soldiers.”) and the Washington Post (“[Blackwater] armed commandos earn an average of about $1,000 a day.”) as well.
And, as The Rabbit keeps noting, armed contractors are not really a left wing/right wing issue—FoxNews repeats the party line too (“Guards employed by Blackwater … are sometimes paid up to $1,000 per day.”)
In fact, the $1,000-per-day line is standard fare worldwide, for example in The Telegraph from
What can you say, other than sexy stories sell copy. After all, what could be better than implying “secret killer commandos paid $365,000 a year to do the same job as welfare Army privates!!”
If only they could somehow work in photos of Britney, Paris and Lindsey decked out in guns & camo, they’d have a real trifecta.
This may be a shock to you, dear reader, but the $1,000-per-day story is both wrong and intentionally misleading.
In other news, water is wet, nine continues to follow eight, and the sun rises in the East.
You would think that anyone who has ever held a job would “get it” that the compensation you receive in return for your work is about far more than whatever cash is left after taxes. If you had to ‘buy’ some of the fringe benefits you enjoy through work, you might have a whole new appreciation for their value.
To be blunt, as anyone working a job without benefits will testify, there is far more to the “pay” equation than the nominal dollar rate.
Talk about money sells copy almost as well as discussion of commandos and socialite bimbos, so the Military Times series of papers has some sort of feature article on
One such recent piece by Rick Maze is particularly helpful. Although it regards military-civilian compensation generally, rather than a military-PSC comparison, it summarizes the “total compensation” issue quite well:
Neither service members nor the lawmakers and policymakers who decide pay levels understand the true value of cash compensation and noncash military benefits, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in its report, “Evaluating Military Compensation,” released June 29. When noncash benefits are considered, the CBO says, the military’s compensation package is highly competitive with the private sector.
The problem, the authors argue, is that service members fixate on basic pay and housing allowances, but fail to factor in the value of benefits like family health care, discounted shopping and subsidized child care.
Fine, you say, military personnel get some benefits. So what’s the big deal?
OK, they are failing because they have sucky cars. Not the awe-inspiring crappiness of, say, an AMC Matador, yet sucky nonetheless. But that’s not the only reason.
The cost of providing health care—never mind any other benefits—adds over a thousand bucks to the price of every one of the 4.65 million vehicles that General Motors sold last year. Put another way, that one benefit all by itself is costing GM $5.6 billion (yes, with a “B”) every year.
In comparison, the current and former
But health care is only the beginning of the benefits story. Add in retirement, paid vacation, education, other insurance … pretty soon you’re talking real money.
It is spending that represents real compensation to the military member—and real expense to the taxpayer. Billions upon billions of dollars that have to come from somewhere.
So instead of comparing part of the compensation package (i.e., a myopic focus on military versus contractor cash-per-day), if you want any meaningful comparison of how these two professionals are rewarded for their service, you have to look at the entire compensation package.
After all, us taxpayers are sure enough footing the bill for the entire compensation package. Not just the part of it that makes someone’s argument.
We’ll try to summarize the benefits that your average soldier enjoys as part of their compensation. As you read through this, you might find it instructive to think about how your own benefit package stacks up.
Would you like access to world’s largest supermarket, where you save 30% on all your groceries and household items and have it all tax free? Sorry, civilian. This brand new 129,000 square foot shopper’s paradise, and 260 others, is operated on a military installation as an exclusive benefit for active, reserve and retired military and their dependents.
Not much of a grocery shopper? Well …
How would you like access to over 12,000 other facilities worldwide, providing average 20% savings on everything you purchase there—and again, all tax free. What kind of “facilities?” Movie theaters, day spas, phone centers, barber shops, GNC stores, optical shops, convenience stores, flower shops, bakeries, car care centers, brand-name fast food restaurants (Subway, Taco Bell, etc.), liquor stores, gas stations, garden shops, furniture stores, computer stores, pet-grooming salons, even new vehicle sales. Oh, and this is all in addition to their general retail (i.e., Sears-like) operations, for total below-market-price sales of nearly $9,000,000,000 in goods just via the Army & Air Force exchange system. All exclusive for military and dependents.
No need for any type of shopping at all, hmm? Let’s try free …
- G.I. Bill – Active Duty pays for four years (or $38,000) of college
Fund can boost total payout to $72,900 for college Army College
- G.I. Bill – Selected Reserve covers Reservist/Guard payments
- Veterans Education Assistance Program provides a $2-for-$1 savings match
- Reserve Education Assistance Program reimburses for tuition and fees
- Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Program 45 months of education benefits if servicemember killed, disabled or missing
- The Spouse Education Assistance Program provides military spouses or widows need-based financial aid for up to four years of college
- Over 1,000 scholarships designated for servicemembers/dependents, including some just for those who serve and others solely for their children
- Eligible to be paid under VA Work-Study Program while in school
- While still in military, can attend school on two-year paid Educational Leave of Absence
- Cash payments or loan repayment under military-only National Call to Service Program
- Military Deferments of federal college student loans
- Student loan repayments of up to $65,000 in debt under the Loan Repayment Program
- Student loan cancellation of up to 50% of debt under Perkins or National Direct Student Loans programs
- The Troops to Teachers program provides stipends of up to $5,000 to assist military personnel in obtaining educator certification or licensing, or $10,000 grants for certain participants
- Enlisted Commissioning Programs provide enlisted members their normal compensation package while they attend up to four years of college free of charge
- Program for Afloat College Education offers free undergraduate classes
- Up to $40,000 in graduate degree tuition paid under the Advanced Education Voucher program
- Fully funded graduate degree programs under the Advanced Civil Schooling program
- Free college credit for military experience under the CREDIT program
- Armed Forces Tuition Assistance pays for up to $250 per semester credit hour of college courses taken during off-duty hours
- Tuition Assistance Top-up Program for tuition and fees not covered by Tuition Assistance
- Veterans Administration-provided tutoring under the Tutorial Assistance Program
- The overwhelming majority of states provide service-related education benefits, from scholarships to free tuition at state schools.
So, no interest in education either? How about a benefit no one wants to use …
- Plot and interment at no cost in
- Burial Expense Reimbursement of $600 to $2000
- Military funeral honors, including memorial flag
- Headstone or marker at no charge
- State military cemetery burial
- By way of comparison, average civilian funeral costs are $6000 to $10000
But if using that one is inevitable, then you probably need this one too …
Yes, FREE lawyers (and we all thought there was no such creature) providing services including: Estate planning advice; Will and testamentary trust drafting; Power of attorney preparation; Review of contracts and leases; Personal finance advice; Domestic relations advice (divorce, separation, annulment, family support, adoption, custody, paternity and name changes); Consumer affairs; Landlord-tenant relations, including review of leases and correspondence; Advice on immigration and naturalization issues; Servicemembers Civil Relief Act advice and assistance; Tax advice on real and personal property; Preparation of Federal, State and local tax forms and free electronic filing through the Armed Forces Tax Council.
- Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) automatic $400,000 subsidized coverage
- Traumatic SGLI provides additional coverage of up to $100,000
- Family SGLI free $10,000 coverage on all dependent children and subsidized coverage of up to $100,000 on spouses
- Veterans’ Group Life Insurance up to $400,000 available on discharge
- Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance up to total of $30,000 additional coverage
- Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance additional $90,000 for homebuying disabled vets
- A Total Disability Income Provision rider provides disability insurance to holders of the above life insurance policies, and any further premiums on the policy are waived
- Non-taxable Death Gratuity of $100,000 paid to the survivors of servicemembers who die (by any means) while on active duty
- Retiree Death Gratuity of $12,420 to the survivors of those who die shortly after retiring
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation pays the surviving current or former spouse of a servicemember lost in the line of duty a monthly payment, and provides each child a monthly payment as well
- Parents’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation provides monthly payments to low-income parents of deceased servicemembers
- VA Death Pension Benefits are need-based payments to the surviving spouse(s) and children of all honorably discharged veterans
- Bereavement Counseling through the Veterans Administration
G.I. Bill Death Benefit education benefit payout to heirs Montgomery
- Survivor Support Organizations such as the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
- Survivor Benefit Plan is a subsidized annuity that provides spouses, former spouses, and/or children monthly payments of up to 55% of veteran’s retired military pension
- Free Government Quarters for one year following an active-duty servicemember’s death (by any means), or payment for civilian housing, for widowed spouse and/or children.
- Veterans Administration-sponsored health insurance through Kaiser Permanente under the CHAMPVA program for survivors of disabled veterans, including prescription delivery by mail
- Survivors and dependents are eligible for vocational and educational counseling services through Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Services offices
- Widowed spouses and former spouses, and dependent children and parents all have continued privileges for military commissary and exchange shopping
- Adoption Assistance: Servicemembers may be reimbursed for adoption expenses and receive up to three weeks of paid, non-chargeable leave (a/k/a “vacation”) upon adopting
- Family Services Offices provide support groups, exceptional family member programs, relocation counseling, newcomer orientations, sponsorships, family job search assistance, career counseling and coaching, parenting classes, financial education and counseling, consumer advocacy, and emergency assistance to spouses, children and other dependents of military personnel.
- Military Child and Youth Programs offer full- and part-time accredited and subsidized daycare, after-school programs, daycamps, and teen programs
- The Department of Defense Education Activity operates free K-12 schools for military dependent children, and these 200 non-public schools consistently rank among the very best in the nation
- Spouses seeking government civilian jobs with DoD enjoy hiring preference under the Military Spouse Preference Program
- The Spouses to Teachers program provides military spouses with financial aid and free information and assistance on obtaining and transferring certification
- The Continued Health Care Benefits Program offers health care insurance coverage for up to three years after a military spouse divorces or children leave the household
- Free counseling through the Military OneSource program, which provides call centers, website info, consultation services and counseling on a myriad of concerns including addiction and recovery services, parenting and child care issues, education, relocation, financial and legal concerns, health, fitness, military life, eldercare.
- Heck, they even have their own movies of that unnaturally annoying freak-of-nature Elmo. Have you ever sat through a half hour of that furry little bastard being tickled in some hot and crowded airport? You want someone to fear?? Satan-spawn Elmo (why do you think he’s red) and his band of brain-rotting cohorts are the ones of whom to be afraid. Be very afraid.
- Long before they fall under VA care or DoD-subsidized health insurance, every service member is entitled to free routine and casualty medical and dental care and no-cost prescriptions under the baseline-funded $20,700,000,000 per-year DoD Military Health System
- Taxpayer-subsidized health care insurance available for military family members under the TRICARE Program, including medical, dental, vision, prescription and mental health benefit options
- After leaving military service, eligible for 18 months of subsidized Humana health care insurance coverage under the Continued Health Care Benefits Program
- Eligible for the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program, which offers portable, guaranteed renewable, federally sponsored coverage for military, retirees, parents, in-laws and adult children of servicemembers
- Combat veterans receive free medical care under the Medical Benefits Package of the Veteran’s Administration, which provides general preventive and primary health care, as well as Veteran Health Registries (free medical exams, lab & diagnostic work); Readjustment Counseling Services; Prosthetic and Sensory Aids; Home Improvements for Disability Access; Blind Services (dogs, training, grants, etc.); Mental Health Care (PTSD, substance abuse, etc.); Suicide Prevention; Work Therapy & Rehab; Long-Term Care; Outpatient Dental; Outpatient Pharmacy; Nursing Homes (VA, State, and commercial); and civilian Emergency Medical Care
- Retired servicemembers and their families are eligible for TRICARE Program health care insurance, and medicare-wraparound coverage is available under the TRICARE For Life program
- All veterans except those dishonorably discharged can obtain the VA Medical Benefits Package premium-free by paying the applicable co-pays
For part 2, click here.