— By JIM VINES
A combination of lawmakers and veterans groups are stepping up efforts to fight cuts to benefits for military retirees under the bipartisan budget agreement passed by Congress before the holiday break.
President Obama put his signature on the two-year budget bill, which includes provisions to pare down annual cost-of-living increases in benefits for military retirees under age 62, saving the government an estimated $6.3 million over a decade.
Bills have been introduced by members on both sides of the aisle that would effectively undo pension cuts to military retirees. Spearheading these efforts are Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and Rep.Ted Poe, R-Texas. Among other proposals, lawmakers have proposed closing a tax loophole that has allowed illegal immigrants to claim fraudulent cash payments in order to replace these pension costs.
The new budget bill would reduce retirement benefits for working-age retirees. Starting Dec. 1, 2015, cost-of-living adjustments for pensions of people under 62 would be modified to equal inflation minus 1 percent. Then at 62, retirees would receive a “catch-up” increase that would restore their pensions to reflect levels as if the cost-of-living adjustment had been the full consumer price index in all previous years. But, retirees wouldn’t get back what was lost, an example being a reduction of nearly $72,000 in benefits over a lifetime for a sergeant first class who retirees at age 42.
Outrage by veterans groups cite the unfairness to those Americans who have served honorably in uniform, and they predict this change will prompt an exodus of those at mid-career once the U.S. economy rebounds that it will hurt efforts to recruit new individuals into the all-volunteer force.
Contact state representatives to voice opinions and help lawmakers fight these cuts. Make a resolution to “continue to never forget our men and women in uniform.”
Speak to you again next week.
Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133.