Vets Hit Retired Generals Supporting Pay Cuts
Veterans groups are taking aim at a group of retired generals and admirals who support the budget deal passed last month that cuts military retirement payments.
"Those who earn the most in military retirement shouldn't side against the masses who also served and who are now being asked to sacrifice again," said Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis. "The COLA penalty needs to be eliminated for all."
Under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, military retirees under age 62 will have their annual cost of living adjustment lowered one percent below the increase determined by the consumer price index.
The provision has drawn fire from veterans groups and military associations across the board.
Last month three retired generals and a retired admiral with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington D.C. think tank, issued a joint endorsement of the budget deal.
"Since 2000, military personnel costs have doubled, while the active duty force has shrunk by ten percent," stated the four -- Marine Gen. James Jones, Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, Air Force Gen. Charles "Chuck" Ward, and Adm. Gregory Johnson. "Such cost growth is unsustainable, and the leadership of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all agree that the costs of benefits for personnel are starting to crowd out other important investments that support training, readiness and modernization. This plan is an important first step in tackling those costs."
The four say the military will also have to deal with compensation at some point to ensure that benefits are both "fair and sustainable" for the future.
They point out that the budget deal on military retirement does not cut the initial retirement benefit, and also will not apply to anyone age 62 or older.
Louis Celli, legislative director for The American Legion, said it is "a shame that the very leaders who served with this group of heroes fails to support their troops and all other veterans who have and will earn the honorable title of military retiree."
Celli said military retirees earned their retirement benefits through honorable military service, and to penalize them in an attempt to balance the budget is an injustice.
"The American Legion will not rest until there is a full repeal of this legislation," he said.
The surge of opposition to the retirement cut has so far resulted in a measure inserted in the Omnibus Budget that will exempt disabled military retirees and their survivors. But the VFW and other groups and advocates want the entire provision scrapped.
Davis said flag officers have a micro view of the budget and can only guess at the direct impact that the COLA reduction -- to begin in 2015 -- will have on the estimated 800,000 working age military retirees.
This group would be largely made up of retired enlisted members in the grade of E-7, according to the VFW.
An E-7 "retiring today would earn about $25,000 annually in taxable retirement pay, which is borderline poverty for a family of four," Davis said.
The VFW on Wednesday issued a "legislative alert" directing its members to call and email their representatives in Congress to demand repeal of the entire provision.
In a statement Tuesday the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America called the planned cuts an "outrage," and said Congress drew "a line in the sand" by passing it.
Since it passed the budget deal, however, a number of lawmakers have introduced legislation -- mostly in the House -- to repeal the measure. But those bills, if they follow the usual path, would not get to the House floor for a vote until the spring; and if one passed, it would not be signed into law until close to the end of the year.
That's still plenty of time, since there are no plans to trim retirement in 2014, but lawmakers feeling the heat of an angry veteran constituency are anxious for a quick do-over.
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