Durbin Chairs Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing On DOD Budget Issues

Following a discussion about budget issues, Senator questions DOD Secretary and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, on for-profit colleges and tobacco sales

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Today U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) chaired a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on Fiscal Year 2015 funding requests for the Department of Defense (DOD).  Durbin also questioned both Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, on how growing expenditures for the Tuition Assistance program and MyCAA, for military spouses, have impacted DOD’s budget. Durbin suggested that the DOD should be taking a more proactive role in preventing servicemembers from signing up with predatory for-profit colleges in order to save millions of dollars and help protect servicemembers and their families. Durbin also noted that ending the practice of discounting tobacco products for servicemembers would not only save the Department money, but would also save lives. 

For-Profit Colleges

For-profit institutions aggressively recruit veterans, servicemembers, and their families in order to access millions in unregulated taxpayer funding. Some for-profit colleges charge nearly twice the tuition rate of public universities for a degree which is, in many cases, largely useless. For-profit colleges only enroll 10% of college students, but receive more than 20% of Department of Education financial aid dollars and account for 46% of all student loan defaults.

Video of Senator Durbin’s question and remarks on for-profit colleges is available HERE.

In November 2013, Durbin introduced the Protecting Our Students and Taxpayers (POST) Act with U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and U.S. Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) to eliminate the loophole that allows for-profit colleges to receive more than 90% of their revenue from the federal government.  As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Durbin secured a portion of the POST Act in the Defense Department Appropriations Act of FY2014 – the language requiring the inclusion of DOD’s voluntary military education programs (Tuition Assistance for servicemembers and MyCAA for their spouses) in the federal 90/10 calculation.

Tobacco in the Military

The DOD directs exchanges to gives a 5 percent discount on tobacco products to all servicemembers, although, studies have shown that, in practice, these discounts can be significantly higher. 24 percent of the military smokes versus 20 percent of the U.S. population and 13 percent of the military use smokeless tobacco versus 2 percent of the U.S. population. The DOD also spends $1.6 billion a year on tobacco-related medical care and lost work. In March, Durbin joined Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) , Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) on a letter to U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, urging the department to prohibit the sale of tobacco products aboard naval bases and ships, a move the department is currently considering. The Navy already prohibits the sale of tobacco at most of its Naval commissaries, and in 2012, it eliminated discounts on tobacco sales at Naval exchanges. Full text of the letter is below.


“One in three members of the military today says they started after they enlisted. Why? Well, because we make it easy for them. We make it easy because for some reason the Department of Defense decided to put in a discount for tobacco,” Durbin said. “Tobacco may be the best bargain the military sells.”

Video of Senator Durbin’s question and remarks on tobacco sales is available HERE



March 28, 2014


The Honorable Ray Mabus

Secretary of the Navy

Office of the Secretary of the Navy

2000 Navy Pentagon

Washington, D.C. 20350-2000


Dear Secretary Mabus,


We understand that you are considering prohibiting the sale of all tobacco products aboard naval bases and ships. We commend your efforts and hope that you will move forward with this initiative which will renew emphasis on the health of our dedicated sailors and Marines as well as provide for increased combat readiness.


The high rate of tobacco use by active-duty personnel is not only harmful to their health, but also costs the federal government significantly in the longterm. While annual profits from all Department of Defense (DOD) authorized military tobacco sales are roughly $90 million, a DOD report from June 2009 estimated that the annual tobacco-related military health costs and lost productivity are about $1.9 billion, or 21 times greater than the annual sales. While smoking rates among active-duty military have decreased in the past few decades—similar to the trends that we are seeing in the civilian population—DOD should do more to lower the smoking rates among active-duty military.


A 2008 DOD study found that smoking rates among all branches of the military was 30.6 percent, compared to 20.6 percent among adults in the general U.S. population. Additionally, 33 percent of surveyed active-duty personnel said that the availability of cigarettes at many places on installations made it easier to smoke. Wide availability could contribute to the fact that nearly half of all smokers surveyed had attempted to quit but were unsuccessful. Several factors purportedly contribute to high smoking rates such as stress relief and the desire to relax or calm down.  The Department should ensure that adequate support is always available to personnel seeking to quit tobacco use, including the existing effort to  offer tobacco cessation products and services.


We recognize, support and thank you for your recent efforts to increase smoke-free areas on bases, eliminate smoking on submarines, and improve access to cessation services. Again, we applaud your ongoing efforts to help our sailors and Marines break nicotine addiction and avoid the life-long health complications and deaths associated with tobacco use.  We urge you to do everything in your capacity to address this issue for our military men and women, including moving forward with the proposal to stop the sale of tobacco aboard all naval bases and ships.




RICHARD BLUMENTHAL                               

United States Senate


RICHARD J. DURBIN                               

United States Senate



United States Senate


United States Senate                                       

JACK REED        


SHERROD BROWN                        

United States Senate