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My Turn: Budget deal unfair to military retirees

I am one the healthy retirees Michael Moffett refers to in his recent column about military pensions (“This vet says cut benefits,” Sunday Monitor Forum, Jan. 5). As I am now over age 62, you may say I have no skin in game; however, we all have a role to play.

America’s military members put their lives on the line for our nation. They are often forced to serve in dangerous specialties and endure long overseas deployments. I was a helicopter pilot flying mine warfare countermeasures missions. Here in New Hampshire, many of our servicemen and women have deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. Many come home with wounds they will carry for life, both seen and unseen. These are hardships you won’t find in most civilian jobs. Knowing how much our military sacrifices for our country, it’s perplexing that Congress targeted military retirees for benefit cuts in the budget deal that passed right before Christmas.

That budget deal was the very opposite of “shared sacrifice.” It called for disproportionate sacrifices from military retirees and current service members when they retire. It reduced by 1 percent the annual cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees (those with at least 20 years of service) from the time they retire until reaching age 62. Shockingly, those who retired as a result of becoming disabled through their service will also see their pension benefits cut. This change to the military retirement system was not properly vetted.

Although new federal employees, those starting in 2014 or after, will be required to make higher contributions toward their retirement, existing federal employees were spared. A host of other major spending issues were taken off the table. Military retirees basically became the fall guy for politicians’ inability to make difficult decisions about the budget.

While I appreciate the service of Moffett, a retired Marine Corps reservist, I disagree with his view that the military retiree benefit cuts were not draconian. The vast majority of veterans and military retirees in New Hampshire would also disagree.

Although a 1 percent reduction in the annual COLA may sound insignificant, it’s not. Money adds up over time. According to an estimate from the Military Officers Association of America, an E-7 retiring at age 40 today would see a cumulative loss of $83,000. Those who rank higher would lose even more. Do we wish to have these highly trained professionals leave the service early? What does that cost in lost training?

We all know that service members aren’t getting rich from their time in the military. And $83,000 is a lot of money to lose for a military retiree who has given 20 years of his youth to our country. It’s especially unfair to change the rules in the middle of the game for those who are currently serving in dangerous places like Afghanistan.

Contrary to Moffett’s view, this isn’t about “bringing home the bacon.” America relies on a volunteer force to defend itself. Targeting military retirees to pay the bill for Washington’s spending addiction is a breach of faith with those who have sacrificed to keep us safe. This breach could very well discourage the next generation from joining the military or encourage experienced veterans to leave the military before retirement.

Prior to the bill passing, Sen. Saxby Chambliss introduced a resolution expressing the view of the Senate that “retirees from the armed forces should not unfairly bear the burden of excessive government spending” – a measure that had the support of several senators, including John McCain. There’s no question that the will exists in Washington to repeal retirement benefit cuts for military retirees, and I hope Congress moves quickly to do so.

Our role is to make sure our congressional representatives know of our support for those that keep America free.

Having signed up to risk our lives in service to our nation, veterans and military retirees understand what it’s like to have skin in the game.

But I don’t understand why the budget deal asked for the most sacrifice from the group that has already sacrificed so much for our country. Let’s get this fixed now before our volunteer force doesn’t volunteer any longer.

(Peter Burdett of Manchester is chairman of the State Veterans Advisory Committee.)

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