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Be Mad: Congressional Abuse of Military Pay Promises

Being in the military these days is a little bit like being a sad Golden Retriever. We do everything our masters tell us – fight this war, protect that freedom, hold down the home front and suffer through the corresponding tolls of mental health and relationship chaos -- only to get kicked under the table anyway.

“Trust us and we’ll take care of you,” our elected officials say. “Fetch, speak and roll over and you can have treat!”

And we follow like the faithful pooch we are. But more and more instead of a cookie our reward is a beating. Paychecks threatened. Services closed. And now, in the ultimate kick to the head, the pension which we currently serving members as well as retirees were promised when we signed that contract is on the line.

In a bipartisan budget agreement known as the Ryan-Murray deal, named after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) who chair the House and Senate budget committees, the pair agreed to cut the yearly value of a 20-year military retirement  for the currently serving force as well as younger retirees steadily until they hit age 62. The deal does this by reducing the yearly cost of living adjustment (COLA) to one percent below inflation.

That means that, as a reward for my husband’s hard work and my and our childrens’ sacrifices, if he were to serve 20-years as a typical officer and be 40-years-old when he retires, we would be out a total of $124,000 compared to what our retirement was pledged to be when he joined. And if he was a typical enlisted retiree we would be out $83,000, according to calculations done by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).

The only way under this bill that we would escape unscathed is if he sweated for the military an additional 12 years until age 62, giving him (in this example) 42 years of service.

With a measly eight years of service in this house so far, 20 seems mighty far off, much less 32. And how many jobs are there for 60-year-old soldiers anyway?

This deal is in no way "fair."

One of the facets of the agreement is that removes the Defense Department from the expected sequester cuts that were to hit next year. That means many services that were on the table for possible elimination, including the commissary system, would probably be safe.

And all of that is great. But at what cost? The real abuse here is that members of Congress are convinced this is a good deal -- a deal they can work with, a deal they can pass,  a deal that does not require too much of any one group.

“We think it’s only fair that hard-working taxpayers who paid for the benefits that our federal employees receive are treated fairly as well,” Ryan said at a press conference. “We also believe it’s important that military families as well as non-military families are treated equally and fair.”

Painting this as an acceptable trade-off is deceptive and definitely not fair. Yanking cash from the calloused, exhausted hands of military retirees is not fair to servicemembers and, despite the $7 billion over 10 years savings, it is not fair to non-military tax payers who will have to fight the wars themselves if we follow our dwindling benefits and broken promises out the door.

The retention conundrum

It all goes back to recruitment and retention. To convince people to join and stay military, the nation both currently and in the past has offered an attractive benefits package. Those benefits – healthcare, retirement, family support programs, etc. -- make up for the measly salary which, you’ll recall, adds up to about $25 an hour before taxes for the typical Army Cpt. with seven years of service despite years of training and huge responsibility.

Without those benefits there is less inspiration to join and almost none to stay long term. Love alone for the military life does not pay the rent. When the trials of staying Army, for example, are compared to a cushy corporate life with a bigger bi-weekly paycheck, getting out sounds mighty attractive.

Yes, we chose to serve. Unlike Fido, we do get to choose our masters. But when we made that decision it was with the understanding that it would be worth it. It was with the knowledge that, as a reward for our faithfulness starting at 20 years in, we would receive a specific retirement adjusted for inflation for the rest of our days.

How much more of this Congressional abuse can military members take before we call it quits? Sure, the folks who only intended to be in four or eight years, earn their GI Bills, and go civilian will still be around. And yes, those servicemembers are extremely important.

But what is the military without the leadership and experience brought by those who would serve long term if it weren’t for the infuriating and categorically unfair treatment from our elected officials?

 

Does this make you angry? Do something about it. Tell your elected officials what you think by quickly and easily sending them your thoughts through this form.

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