Push to Curb COLA 'Look-Back' for High-3 Retirees

Readers of Tom Philpott’s Military Update Column Sound Off

Dampening cost-of-living adjustments to High-3 retired pay is not "small potatoes," as you described it.

I am a High-3 military retiree.  I also am unemployed five years out of the Air Force as an E-7.  I was working but got laid off and so I went to college on Post-9/11 GI bill to get my engineering degree. I earned a 3.69 grade point average.

I have watched fellow classmates get interviews and jobs.  Employers talk about hiring vets but, to me, it is just talk.  At 55 years old, with a military disability, I do no see how anyone can decide to short-change me on my pay…ever.

Save money instead on retired pay of members of Congress.

DAN MARSHALL
Master Sergeant, USAF-Ret.
Via email

A Department of Defense official explains below why DoD has asked Congress to block use of the Tower look-back amendment on cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to High-3 retirees:

The Tower Amendment was enacted several years before the High-3 retirement system to address retired pay inversions occurring under the older "Final Pay" retirement.  The purpose of the Tower Amendment runs contrary to the intent of the High-3 formula.

Targeted retired pay inversions occurred under Final Pay when COLAs exceeded annual basic pay raises.  The single annual pay raise vis-à-vis the single annual COLA could result in significant inversions, based on amount of the first COLA that retirees received during first year of retirement (i.e., partial COLA).

Enactment of High-3 overcame anomalies Tower was intended to address.  It smoothed out pay inversions that could occur from delaying retirement.   Since 2000, the first year High-3 members became eligible for retirement, there have been only two months in which High-3 retirees might have benefitted from the Tower look-back.

The High-3 retirement instituted a new design structure for computing partial COLA in the first year of retirement, one deliberately meant to correlate the amount of that first COLA to the length of time a 'new' retiree was exposed to the impacts of inflation.

In other words, High-3 was designed so the closer a member's retirement date was to December 1 (the COLA application date), the smaller the amount of the first COLA.  To apply Tower to that first COLA would cause a retiree to receive a larger initial partial COLA, in opposition to the intent of the High-3 partial COLA formula.

The majority of increases that would occur under Tower would be for this second look-back on application of the first partial COLA, in December after the actual retirement date.

The report on the Military Retirement Fund by outside auditors showed that DFAS had not employed a strict interpretation of Tower Amendment requirements.  This led to a need for legislative relief to ensure the design of High-3 retirement system is maintained as Congress intended.

As we read the proposed legislation, it requires application of Tower for High-3 retirees upon date of retirement.  This ensures that when retired pay inversions due to difference in amounts of retired pay COLAs and basic pay raises are not "smoothed out" by the High-3 basic pay average, retirees do not suffer the pay inversion. The legislation also clarifies that Tower does not apply when computing that first partial COLA received in that first year of retirement, thus ensuring High-3 is administered as designed.

MORE VOICES ON APNEA

I am a non-obese veteran of more than 20 years’ service and disabled with many injuries and conditions, one of which is sleep apnea.  In my last few years of service I was beleaguered by this sleep disorder and finally diagnosed with it.  It helped to confirm my decision to retire.

When VA awarded me compensation for this ailment, it was totally unexpected. However, I began to realize this was not a minor ailment.  I would be restricted to use the CPAP machine for the rest of my life.

Every vacation or overnight trip has to be planned around.  Sleep Apnea, in my case, would not just cause daytime tiredness but it could cause my death during a deep sleep.

That said, I know some people will abuse the system and cases should be evaluated on an individual bases.

KIRK "MAX" MAXFIELD JR
Via email

I take exception to the one-sided facts presented by you and Mike Webster on the issue of sleep apnea.  I am a retired Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, served my country for over 27 years.  I was diagnosed with sleep apnea more than three years ago and yes I do receive disability compensation for it.

The article breezed over details of the condition, and hardily touched on all the complications.  I would love to believe wearing the CPAP mask every night cures me, but I’m not sure that’s a fact.

The money VA is putting into this is well spent.  It’s an important disability like traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or amputation.

No one like Mr. Webster ever raised a fuss when I went days on end without sleep in garden spots like Afghanistan and Iraq. I am sure none of that stress factored into my disability.  Mr. Webster was too busy drawing flight pay from a comfortable cockpit to know any better!

MICHAEL B.
Via email

NO MORE BENEFIT CUTS

As a 100-percent, service-connected disabled Vietnam vet, I feel I could never be paid enough for what I gave for this country. And I think I can speak for a million others in my situation.

This administration keeps taking more and more and it's not enough. They raised prescription co-pays not to long ago. I'm tired of giving the government more of my benefits through either cuts to my medical care or increases like the ones proposed the Department of Defense.

I got a better idea. Cut some of fat off the budget.  Stop billions from going overseas to countries that burn our flag and want to kill Americans. Or keeping better track of where tax dollars go, like to prisoners and illegal aliens or Obama’s Air Force One campaign tours.

He screws the active military and medically retired vets and our families yet would shower illegals with better health care, food stamps and welfare money.

By the way, last I heard China was still a communist country. They helped the Vietnamese with weapons and money to kill and maim as many American soldiers as possible. They're still our enemy far as I can see. 

Veterans have long carried the load for America.  It's time to leave our deserved benefits alone.

GEORGE WETZELL
Via email

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

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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.

Visit Tom Philpott's Military Update Archive to view his past articles.

Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.

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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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