Veterans Fall Victim To Benefit Cuts In New Bipartisan Budget Deal

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Veterans hospital.

Veterans hospital.

A wave of GOP opposition and the negative effects on U.S. military members wasn’t enough to keep the Ryan-Murray budget from passing the house 332-94, or the Senate 64-36. It is now moving toward President Barack Obama who has signaled his support for the plan.

Recently a budget deal was brokered between House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The bipartisan budget cuts military retirement benefits by 1 percent off inflation starting in 2016.

Federal retirees are untouched by these cuts which seem acceptable to Ryan because military retires begin receiving pensions while still being able to earn a living.

Ryan said:

We give them a slightly smaller adjustment for inflation because they’re still in their working years and in most cases earning another paycheck.

According to the Military Officers Association of America, the nation’s largest association of military officers, the proposal would have a significant impact on military retirees.

A statement by the organization said:

Service members who retire at the 20 year point would feel the full negative financial effects of the proposal with the reduction of their retired pay by nearly 20 percent by the time they reach age 62. For example, an E-7 retiring this year with 20 years of service would see an average loss of over $3,700 per year by the time he or she reaches age 62.  For an O-5, the average annual loss would be more than $6,200.

What’s worse is originally the budget agreement clearly stated that disabled veterans would be exempted from the cuts; however the new summary makes no such distinction. This seems to be at odds with Ryan’s defense that the cuts be accepted because those affected can work full-time jobs to earn a living.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, called the change “unthinkable”.

It has been asserted that the controversial change to military retirees’ pensions affects those who are ‘working-age’ and ‘still in their working years,’ with the clear suggestion being that these individuals are able to work.  That’s why I was deeply troubled when my staff and I discovered that even individuals who have been wounded and suffered a service-related disability could see their pensions reduced under this plan.

Military retirees could face as much as $124,000 in lost retirement income if the bipartisan budget agreement is enacted. MOAA President Vice Adm. Norb Ryan (USN-Ret) stated:

A 20 percent reduction in retired pay and survivor benefit values is a very substantial cut in military career benefits and does not represent good faith to our men and women in uniform.

Ryan seems to have a history of failing to support military members.

Recall that he heralded sequestration cuts this new budget is set to address as, “a victory,” and he applauded, “Speaker Boehner’s leadership in stopping tax increases on job creators, rejecting President Obama’s demands for a blank check to keep borrowing, and advancing real spending cuts and controls.”

It isn’t just military members that have issues with Ryan’s attack on military retires — U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) a member of the Senate Budget Committee said that he will not support the negotiated budget proposal.

I do not support paying for increased federal spending on the backs of our retired and active duty troops. Congress should not change the rules in the middle of the game for those who have chosen to serve our nation in the military. We can and should do a deal without cutting the benefits of our men and women who have volunteered for a military career. The plan should be rejected.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R- S.C.) a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee called the deal “unacceptable”.

I’m for pension benefit reform but what they’re doing here is just unacceptable. After careful review of the agreement, I believe it will do disproportionate harm to our military retirees.

The ranking Republican member of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Inhofe (R- Okla.), spoke out against the cuts on the Senate floor.

This penalizes current and future military members who have served our nation for over 20 years. Keep in mind, people go into the military quite young sometimes knowing that the time they would serve would be for 20 years, many of them longer.

In a statement Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R, N.H.) also weighed in on the Ryan-Murray plan.

I cannot support a budget agreement that fails to deal with the biggest drivers of our debt, but instead pays for more federal spending on the backs of our active duty and military retirees – those who have put their lives on the line to defend us.”

Ryan has also come out against President Obama’s promise to grandfather benefits for current service members claiming that such action wouldn’t achieve the savings the military needs emphasizing that the pension reform only affects service members who have served the 20 years necessary to qualify for a pension (just 20 percent of all veterans) and retired before the age of 62.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, voiced his concern at the passage of the budget deal stating:

I also remain concerned with the way military pensions are treated in this agreement. Congress is waiting on the recommendations of an independent panel studying military compensation. Incremental changes to compensation generate uncertainty and are corrosive to the all-volunteer military.

Sen. Lindsey Graham called for the president to hold the bill until a bipartisan fix to the military benefit cuts can be found.

Other senators from both parties called for going back later to replace the $6 billion in cuts to future cost-of-living increases in military pensions with reductions elsewhere — though some military members may find these to be empty promises.

While the budget plan defuses the chances of another shutdown it does so at the cost of men and women who place themselves in harm’s way. While the bipartisan agreement eliminates some forced spending cuts that both sides disliked it does so by reducing benefits to men and women who have invested blood sweat and tears to earn those very benefits.

Congress has now formed a plan to reduce the deficit by more than $20 billion in coming years by reducing retirement and survivor benefits of those men and women who gave the last full measure of devotion freely and willingly to this country.

 

Edited by DH.

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