Friday, March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON — Under intense pressure from veterans’ groups, members of Congress are pledging to revisit a controversial provision of the weeks-old federal budget that would reduce pension payments for younger military retirees.
Maine veterans gather at the Sanford Vet Center in 2007. Under intense pressure from veterans’ groups, members of Congress are pledging to revisit a controversial provision of the weeks-old federal budget that would reduce pension payments for younger military retirees.
2007 Press Herald file photo/Gordon Chibroski
The cuts to military pensions quickly emerged as the most contentious aspect of the two-year budget passed by Congress late last month. Since then, lawmakers have introduced a slew of proposals to reduce or reverse cuts that outraged veterans’ groups and active duty military personnel.
“If they want to deter people from making the military their career, they are on the right track,” said Thomas Lussier, public relations officer for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Maine.
The two-year budget deal was touted by lawmakers from both parties as an important, if modest, first step toward avoiding another government shutdown and restoring a semblance of “regular order” to the federal budgeting process.
The deal reduced sequestration spending cuts imposed in March by $63 billion, in part by trimming annual cost-of-living adjustments for younger military retirees. Under the plan, working-age retirees and some disabled vets would receive a one-percentage-point reduction in their cost-of-living adjustments until age 62. Upon turning 62, their pensions would jump to what they would have been without the yearly reductions.
An estimated 800,000 people are affected, but the changes are not set to begin until January 2016, so lawmakers have time to work on an alternative plan.
Three members of Maine’s congressional delegation – Republican Sen. Susan Collins, independent Sen. Angus King and Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud – said they opposed the military pension changes but voted for the budget compromise to avert a government shutdown. Each one has signed onto legislation seeking to restore the full cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees.
Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine opposed the budget deal, which terminated unemployment benefits for people who cannot find work for more than six months.
“I voted against the budget bill because it asked people like retirees, public workers and the unemployed to take cuts when instead we should have been looking at closing loopholes for the rich and corporations to find savings,” Pingree said in a prepared statement. “The cost of living cut for retirees should not have been included in that budget package and that’s why I’m supporting a bill to undo it.”
PENTAGON TO SAVE $6.3 BILLION
The Pentagon expects to save $6.3 billion over a decade, money that supporters say will go back into the military by alleviating budget cuts. While it’s a relatively modest cut to pensions that are generous relative to those in the private sector, a 1 percent reduction adds up over a veteran’s lifetime.
A sergeant first class or master sergeant who retires at age 40 after 20 years of service, for instance, would lose about $83,000 in earnings by age 62. A Navy or Coast Guard commander would lose $123,000, according to the Military Officers Association of America.
Veterans groups have blasted those changes as a broken promise between Washington and the military community after more than a decade of war.
“It is a kind of stab in the back for a lot of people who planned their retirement” based on certain expectations, said Ronald Brodeur, adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans in Maine.
“Some of these people who are going to be affected are people who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan four or five times and have really paid their dues,” said Brodeur, an Air Force retiree who would not be affected by the changes because he is older than 62.
The opposition from veterans and active-duty personnel was so strong that many lawmakers pledged to revisit the issue even as they voted in support of the budget deal.
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