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Washington Memo: Military retiree benefits cuts are unfair to our servicemen and women

It’s wrong that the federal budget agreement was reached on the backs of our military men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our nation. The deal unfairly singles out military retirees by cutting their hard-earned retirement benefits – including disabled veterans who retire because of their injuries.

Under the proposal, a sergeant first class in the Army who qualifies for retirement at 20 years of service at age 40, and who has most likely deployed multiple times to war, could lose approximately $72,000 between retirement and turning age 62. That’s the result of a provision in the bill that requires a 1 percent annual reduction in the cost of living adjustment for military retirees.

What makes this particularly unfair is that changes made to federal civilian employee retirement benefits apply only to new hires. Our military retirees were not given the same protections.

When I pressed for answers on who would be affected, the Department of Defense informed my office that the cuts would also apply to service members medically retired – including those who sustained injuries in combat, men and women who sacrificed mightily for our nation.

Retired service members are the only ones seeing their benefits cut midstream in this budget. Where’s the so-called “shared sacrifice”? It’s a demoralizing message to send our men and women serving in harm’s way in Afghanistan and around the world.

Given that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government will spend $47 trillion over the next 10 years, with just a little effort we can work together to find $6 billion to replace these unfair reductions. And with billions in wasteful spending throughout the government, it’s a false choice to suggest that the government will shut down unless military retiree benefits are cut.

If both parties work together now, we could easily replace these cuts. For starters, over the past three years, the Government Accountability Office has uncovered 162 areas of fragmentation, overlap and duplication in federal agencies – adding up to hundreds of billions in unnecessary spending.

Although I introduced two proposals to replace cuts to military retiree benefits, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democrats blocked all amendments to the budget from being considered and voted on. Saying we should just pass this budget deal with these offensive cuts in it and fix it later is a cop-out and no comfort to our military retirees, who now have to rely on Washington politicians to change a law they voted for.

My amendments would have easily replaced these unfair benefit cuts. One would have saved billions by stopping a scheme uncovered by the Treasury Department watchdog in which illegal immigrants fraudulently claim the Additional Child Tax Credit. Another proposal would close a loophole that costs billions in which some states, not including New Hampshire, dole out nominal energy assistance benefits – as low as $1 – to automatically increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for households that may otherwise be ineligible. These are just two examples how we could have covered the $6 billion in cuts to military retiree benefits.

We would not enjoy the freedoms in our great country if not for the sacrifices of our servicemen and women. Retirees earned their benefits through their brave service to our nation. Congress needs to fix this provision now.

(Sen. Kelly Ayotte is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Budget Committee.)

Legacy Comments6

On the surface the notion of cutting military retirement benefits does seem outrageous, even I agree. If you look closer though you would see that all is not as the headlines shout. These cuts do not effect all of our servicemen and women. Less than 20% actually stay the mandatory 20 years to qualify. The majority even the ones able to retire at age 40 will use that military experience for new careers. The most unsettling claim is that this will effect disabled vets, that claim is false as those payment come from a different source. The real trick here is that these cuts essentially revert back as if it never happened at the retirement age of 62. So in typical Washington style, this cut really is vapor, they just kick the issue down the road without truely cutting anything in the long run.

I'm retired military; however, I've continued to work since my retirement. I couldn't have left the work force to live on my military retirement...not in D.C. or anyone else in civilized, mainstream America. I don't want my representatives in Congress taking food from the tables of small children whose parents scrap every day to provide for them, nor do I want Congress taking energy credits from elderly people, just outside the legal definition of "deserving" to get back 1% cost of living increases for me! Fight for the disabled everywhere, especially the 80 to 100% Military medically retired. Go after the big bucks our government is paying Big Energy companies that subsidize their already historical profits. Then, you're doing America a favor. Then, and only then, can I cheer your efforts.

I am not as worried about those like yourself as I am the disabled soldiers who have lost limbs, struggle to live each and every day. No one is taking food from those tables. But the military retirement benefits could have been saved if they simply, instead, enforced the last paragraph of Ayotte's column. Illegal is illegal and they should not be allowed to fraudulently come to this country and then get a benefit which they are not entitled.

democrats voted for illegal aliens over disabled vets - Typical - how can any real American be associated with the democrats?

Don't worry Sail, the silent majority is about to speak out. Americans only take so much.

Sail you should actually read the details of these 1% cola cuts. Payments to disabled vets are not effected, and that is not the only point that Sen. Ayotte has conveniently failed to point out. Perhaps next time you will get your facts correct, or not.

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