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Military Forum: Why Congress Hasn't Lowered Reserve Retirement Age
Why Congress Hasn't Lowered Reserve Retirement Age


About the Author

Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families. Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.

Tom’s freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader's Digest and Washingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback.

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Readers of Tom Philpott's "Military Update" column sound off

May 27, 2005

Whatever happened to the bill some lawmakers were trying to push through Congress that would provide reserve retirement pay before age 60?

Sergeant First Class
499th Quartermaster Company
Richmond, Va.

With Reserve and National Guard members providing 40 percent of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Congress has been eyeing ways to improve their pays and benefits, and avert a recruiting or retention crisis. Defense officials argue the most efficient solutions are larger, targeted bonuses and incentives pays rather than more costly force-wide enhancements of medical or retirement benefits.

Indeed, Defense officials have been openly critical of recent enhancements to military entitlements, claiming Congress already has gone too far. They point to the costs of TRICARE for Life, Survivor Benefit Plan gains and lifting the ban on concurrent receipt of both military retirement and VA disability compensation for a few hundred thousand disabled retirees.

The lead bills to lower the reserve retirement age, from 60 to 55, are HR 783, sponsored by Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J), and S 639, sponsored by Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.). The House failed to include Saxton's bill in its version of the 2006 defense authorization bill. The Senate has yet to vote on floor amendments, but its armed services committee failed to endorse a change to reserve retirement.

Last fall the Government Accountability Office estimated the cost of lowering reserve retirement to age 55 at $13.6 billion over ten years. GAO also said relatively few reservists in Iraq and Afghanistan would benefit because only one in four will serve long enough to retire.

Under Secretary of Defense David S. C. Chu underscored that point in a May 9 appearance before the Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission. He said lowering the age of reserve retirement would hinder not help the services to keep experienced reservists.

"Of the 125,000 people who would be eligible, about 100,000" have completed their service, Chu said. "Of the remaining 25,000, we think a majority will leave, actually. We don't see this as an attractive option from a retention perspective. Distant rewards [like retirement] are not very powerful in attracting younger people to join or middle-age people to stay." -– Tom Philpott

Dividing Disability Pay

Initially in my divorce, the honorable judge awarded my former spouse half of my retirement pay or half my disability compensation. I appealed, arguing that my former spouse was not entitled to half of my disability pay from the military. The Appeals Court ruled in my favor and sent the ruling back to the 4th Circuit Court in Duval County of Florida for amendment. I thought a wrong was finally going to be righted. Boy was I wrong.

The amended divorce decree said:

"The Husband shall not merge his retired or retainer pay with any other pension, and shall not pursue any course of action that would defeat the wife's right to receive the above stated portion of the full net disposable retired or retainer pay of the husband. If the Husband takes any action (such as accepting Veteran's Administration Disability Pay, Voluntary Separation Initiative Pay, Special Separation Benefit Pay, or Involuntary Retirement Pay) that reduces the monies which the wife receives, then the husband shall pay directly to the wife the amount by which her share is reduced. Further, should the husband take any action such as accepting as the above () that reduces the monies the wife receives, the court retains jurisdiction to award the wife spousal support to reimburse her for any reduction in monies received."

Does a judge have the authority to tell a military member he or she is not allowed to accept disability? If the retiree does chose to take disability, or has no other choice, can a judge penalize a member?

I am out of money for any more appeals.

Starke, Fla.

This columnist is no lawyer but a check with an expert in field of military divorce law suggests the judge can rule as he has.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act directs the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, when presented with a valid court order to divide retired pay, can only consider "disposable" retired pay. Excluded from the law's definition of disposable retirement is any disability pay from the military or Department of Veterans Affairs.

But the USFSPA doesn't prevent a divorce court judge from considering such disability pay when dividing marital assets. In your case, the judge effectively said that even if you begin getting more disability compensation, perhaps lowering your retired pay, you are still going to owe your ex-spouse XXXX amount per month.

The USFSPA, by the way, doesn't prevent simultaneous award of a share of retired pay, alimony, child support and other assets of a marriage. –- T.P.

Anxious to Keep Care

As a veteran rated unemployable (IU) and receiving disability compensation at the 100-percent level, I believe some IU cases need looking into and others don't. In using the VA healthcare system, I do see a lot of people getting over on it and it makes me so mad.

I cannot work due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was raped in Germany in 1982 while stationed there. I was threatened not to tell anyone. I suffer from depression, anxiety, panic attacks. I prefer to stay by myself. I don't leave my room at home unless I have a VA appointment. Even though I take my meds, I have problems remembering things. Something about crowds makes my heart race and I cannot breathe.

Not only does PTSD keep me from working but I have other medical problems not service-connected, including diabetes, and kidney and bladder problems. What I am saying, as the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission begins its work, please don't cut out the things we need. If it was not for the VA, I could not get treatment.

Via e-mail

Letters may be edited for clarity or length. Write to Military Forum, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, send e-mail to militaryforum@aol.com or visit www.militaryupdate.com

© 2005 Tom Philpott. All rights reserved.



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