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My Turn: This veteran says cut military benefits

President Obama recently signed off on a federal budget deal that was the product of rare bipartisan cooperation. It included countless line items, but one that’s received much attention involved a 1 percent benefits decrease in the annual cost-of-living adjustment over 10 years for working-age military retirees.

Having qualified for a military pension, I was quite interested in this “cut,” which veterans’ advocates took to the airwaves to decry. Senators from across the political spectrum, led by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, vowed to reverse it.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen proposed the $6 billion in cuts be paid for by increasing taxes on corporations. Wrong answer.

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte introduced legislation – the Keeping Our Promise to Our Military Heroes Act – to repeal the COLA reduction. Ayotte’s proposal would replace the military retiree benefit cuts by stopping a scheme that allows illegal immigrants to claim the additional child tax credit – which currently costs taxpayers billions.

That makes more sense than Shaheen’s proposal, but the cut should remain.

We need to change our current structure – i.e. slightly modify benefits. Not for wounded warriors, for whom we can’t do enough, but for us healthy retirees.

The above statement guarantees me the opprobrium of many fellow veterans. But someone needs to say it.

Every constituency receiving Washington money argues for more federal money. And folks get elected (and re-elected) to Congress by bringing home the bacon. That’s our system, a system which requires a chief executive with the courage to counter built-in congressional over-spending tendencies. Unfortunately, the current administration has been the worst in history in terms of spending. The debt numbers and wasteful policies speak for themselves.

The Obama administration has saddled future generations with unconscionable debt, in return for short-term political advantages.

Why any informed young person would support this is beyond me.

A different president, John F. Kennedy, famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

I am grateful for the privilege of wearing our country’s uniform and appreciate all I’ve received over 25 years of active and reserve duty. After returning from Afghanistan in 2010, I had several operations at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Didn’t cost me a dime, but it would have been tens of thousands of dollars otherwise. My education benefits, similarly, have been worth tens of thousands of dollars. I could go on and on. An Army private now earns more than $41,000 annually if you include base housing and food allowances.

I’m old enough to remember how Vietnam veterans were treated 40 years ago. The country has done an about-face on its popular attitudes toward the military. Polls now indicate the military is among the most highly respected professions. Let’s keep it that way by maintaining our ethos of sacrifice and service.

A 1 percent benefits decrease over 10 years doesn’t seem Draconian to me, especially if it sets the stage for other cuts everywhere else that can redeem our children’s future.

I’m sure John F. Kennedy would agree.

(Michael Moffett of Loudon was a Marine Corps infantry officer who saw duty in the Persian Gulf and in Afghanistan. He is a professor at NHTI-Concord and author of “Fahim Speaks: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back.”)

Legacy Comments18

Mr. Moffett comes to the conclusion that the government is spending too much and needs to start making some reductions. He looks around and doesn't propose a reduction to lowering subsidized spending for higher education, reductions on expenditures for illegals, or for reductions on federal workers, one of the highest paid and highest retirement and benefited workers in the world. Nope, he says "hey, let's start with our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines," the lowest paid and most hardship effected workers. Leave your family for two, three or more tours in a combat zone and you get the idea of a hardship. I can only say that Mr. Moffett's proposal is about the dumbest thing I have ever heard come out of Marine officer's mouth and that is my kindest comment.

One thing that should be pointed out is that this cut only effects about 17% of the total servicemen and women. That is because 17% is the general figure of how many actually stay in for the mandatory 20 years to qualify military retirement. Most use the military for job training and use that experience in the job market. This also does not effect disabled Vets one iota. So before we get blinded by the flag here let's keep some eye on the facts. Military retirement is the best game in town when it comes to benny's. Not that I don't think that our servicemen don't deserve more, but we all have to share in the pain. What the real crime is how we treat servicemen/women with service ending injuries with no where near the time required for retirement. Now that is a true National Disgrace. So no crying about a 1% reduction in cola increases.

In regards to the attack on Afghanistan & Iraq Combat Era Veterans; I am reminded of the words of Charles Schwab - "Accountability; You Stand Behind What You Say. You Don't Make Excuses, You Make Commitments. When You Can't Live Up To Them, You Own Up, And Make It Right." http://www.businessinsider.com/retirement-cuts-sacrifice-integrity-2014-1?goback=.gde_1949088_member_5825872728976027651#!

Reservist who will not collect retirement until close to 60 once they subtract the time he was mobilized. Impact of the law is minimal on him so he can run his mouth all day long. Have to give him credit though brilliant business teacher, he will get a ton of free advertising for the book he wrote. Site I checked said it was a 5 out of 5 stars based on one review by himself.

I'm a former Army officer and an Iraq veteran. I don't agree with all of the author's points but I am glad he wrote this piece and I agree with the main point, that we need to get serious about the budget and that military pay and benefits need to be part of that discussion. I was taught that "Selfless service" was one of the Army values and I haven't been able to detect much of it in the invective hurled at those who are willing to see both sides of the issue, like Mr. Moffett. Retired/separated officers are less vulnerable than former enlisted men and women and that should be considered. The author didn't write anything to the contrary. Thanks to the author for having the courage to write this. I hope it encourages a few others to get acquainted with the facts rather than relying on what the politicians and the veterans' lobbying organizations are saying. -Rob Dapice

I don't believe these "cuts" reflect actual decreases in benefits, simply a reduction in the size of future benefits for future retirees. I agree the actual future reductions are reasonable in light of overall budget concerns, but like all the other posters here I agree we shouldn't be singling out veterans. And yes, the nature of the beast is that officers are paid more than enlisted with equivalent time-in-service. That's another topic for discussion.

Darn, no way to edit your own comments. First sentence should read: I don't believe these "cuts" reflect actual decreases in benefits, simply a reduction in the size of future benefit increases for future retirees.

Your insight is correct, there is no reduction in benefits. Washington has a 5% increase say for a program, that gets reduced in the budget by 2 1/2 %, Washington speak now says there is a reduction of 2 1/2 % to that program.

"Unfortunately, the current administration has been the worst in history in terms of spending." Typical republican delusion. The truth: Obama is the smallest spender since Eisenhower. http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/05/24/who-is-the-smallest-government-spender-since-eisenhower-would-you-believe-its-barack-obama/

If Bush was the biggest spender..and Obama spent more money every year than Bush...well...you figure it out...but trust me...your statement is not correct.

I prefer to trust the statistics.

Incredible...a former Marine and advocate for broken promises by our "elected" officials. I'm sure you'd see it differently if you had to pay for those medical operations. If we stay the course, that's what will happen. Will you remain a supporter then? This is more about broken promises rather than money. You of all people should know that. Mike, your conduct is unbecoming...

Good column. I think that we could have it both ways. The GAO in 2012 identifies nearly $300B in duplicative and wasteful government programs and spending. As many times as I bring this up and post it here, no one on the Left ever supports cutting these items. That money would really replace this cut to veterans and reduce deficit spending. We can have it both ways if the people pressure the government to do the right things. Moreover, pork spending is on hiatus right now and should stay that way.

Leave it an "officer" to betray the people he was supposed to lead. There are many "healthy" retirees that are enlisted that are unemployed and can't survive on 700.00 a month. That is a little less than minimum wage. These retirees have to pay for dental and medical insurance if they want them. The VA will only cover any "service connected" problems but unless your 50% disabled or more will not cover anything else. Chances are, this "officer" retired as a Lt. Colonel, or Colonel with a retirement between 3500.00 and 4500.00 per month if he retired at 20 years. He can afford to cut his benefit. So here is what I propose. Let him propose to cut benefits of Majors and above and leave us lower ranks alone.

I find it interesting in the writers wording. He identifies "That’s our system" and then removes any blame to Congress for taking care of themselves and saying it is all of this administration fault for allowing spending. It is Congresses job to recommend spending and both sides are guilty of "buying" votes with the pork barrel spending. In reality any president has little power. They cannot just make a law, a president can veto a proposed law set in front of them by Congress but that veto can also be overridden by Congress. In reality those lifelong politicians have much more influence over the US than any President....... I will disagree on the retirement cut also noted here. If Congress wants to cut federal benefits it should be for "every" worker paid for by the government. They are all part of the "money spent" and should all be "part of a cut". That includes Congress, military, FBI, CIA, OSHA, all federal workers, etc... Picking out this single group and proclaiming a bi-partisan budget cut is insulting to the military. They actually risked their lives, all the other federal workers sat home and turned the channel when the news reported how many more died today defending this country.

I tend to agree with you Jim. Bottom line is that we need to end the central power in Washington. There should be term limits of 12 years, any combination of offices that will allow you to serve 12 years except the President which should be four years given that the latter four years of most terms, as we see now are fraught with controversy. Then we need a top to bottom review of all departments and we need to first institute the cuts that are published every year by the GAO. Being a representative of the people in Washington was never meant to be a profession with millionaires and lawyers leading the charge. Finally, we need to return the Senatorial election to the legislatures where that system worked for over 100 years. The Senate, few people know today was originally to be chosen by state legislatures...that was changed to a popular vote by the people sometime in the latter 19th century.

The Bipartisan Budget Act's reduction of Military Retirement Benefits was a REAL INSULT to the Afghanistan & Iraq Combat Era Generation of Veterans. The already scheduled Military Compensation and Retirement Commission was, to be a transparent process to address the issues in question, and was, tasked to review all military compensation, benefits, and retirement in a public forum. It's findings, and final recommendations were due May 1,2014 and were to be used for a decision regarding the addressed issues. The commission had been instructed by the President not to alter the current retirement system for those already serving, retired or in the process of retiring. The budget deal totally usurped this open democratic process and was the worse kind of shady backroom dealing imaginable. It was announced no notice on Tuesday, December 10th to the shock of everyone, and voted on Thursday, December 12 by Congress allowing no time for public review. Our U.S. Government Elected Politicians were caught with their hand in the Cookie Jar, and hoped no one would notice;. "WE NOTICED" "Out of all Americans receiving benefits from the federal government, military retirees were the only ones targeted for a direct reduction in payments." No one believes that the Commission is now any more than a political sham and that it is obvious how the game is really going to be played. Their is no love lost between the Politicians and the Americans Veterans retired and those currently serving after they or others at their level did not take care of the families of the fallen during the Budget shutdown. It was a NATIONAL DISGRACE and viewed as the final straw when they really showed their true colors. This issue of the Military Retirement COLA is not all just a Business Ledger Sheet, with amounts and sums, it is raw emotion, and an overwhelming sense of betrayal, and a feeling of what you always believed in your country, and society, may have all been just really an illusion.

Amen Brother!

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