I truly despise the phrase: “It’s not fair.” I have banned the three words from my home and classroom, but I can’t think of a better way to sum up the deal Congress has made in their newly passed budget plan.
The greater population of the United States depends on a small fraction of the population to serve and defend our interests at home and abroad. When young men and women sign up to serve our country, they are promised a salary, medical benefits and a stable retirement any time after 20 years of service. So, by passing the budget deal, which included dramatic cuts to retirees’ benefits, last month, Congress broke the promise made to the brave men and women who serve at the pleasure of the President. What is set to take effect next year is a blatant breach of contract.
Yes, the current retirement arrangement is a great deal and needs to be reassessed, for fiscal viability, for future servicemen and women. But breaking the deal for men and women who are already serving is inexcusable and reprehensible. Current service members should be grandfathered in order to keep their current retirement package. The outrage the bipartisan deal has sparked among veterans is valid. We military families view the retirement deal as a solemn pact and count on it. We pay our dues in uncountable ways and knowing that the retirement compensation is waiting for us, after at least two decades of service, makes the low pay and hard work endurable during the toughest times: long deployments, 18 hour work days, frequent moves, and more.
Yes, it is undeniable that the military retirement plan is better than nearly any other public sector plan (more on that later) and most private sector plans, but that is not the issue. The issue is that this is the plan we signed up for. Change is ok and necessary, but not for existing servicemen or retirees. Any changes should be for people signing up now so that anyone willing to volunteer to risk his or her life for our country knows what retirement plan awaits him if he survives the numerous deployments and countless hours of training.
According to a Fact Or Fiction article, by Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret), deputy director, MOAA Government Relations, on the Military Officers Association of American website,
“Budget critics persist in asserting military pay, retirement, and health care benefits are unsustainable and should be slashed to more closely resemble civilian benefit packages. But decades of such dire predictions proved consistently wrong. On the contrary, these crucial career incentives have sustained a strong national defense through more severe and protracted wartime conditions then even the strongest proponents of the all-volunteer force thought it could survive.”
Military retirement pay, as promised when Horatio signed on to the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1988, is equal to half of the average of the last three years of basic salary earned by the service member, with increases for cost-of-living each year. The basic salary does not include any benefits, such as housing allowance, which can make up a large portion of a military member’s income. Compare this program to the retirement plan for Senators and Members of Congress, who receive ALL of the average salary of the last three years of service. Congress’s cut to military retirement benefits, while leaving their own alone, is appalling.
In the grand scheme of things, the cut to military retirement is relatively small: a one percentage point reduction in the annual cost-of-living allowance (COLA) increase. Sure, it sounds insignificant, but in actuality, it means that families like mine are losing real money; and the changes have provoked outrage among veterans who argue that the country is reneging on a solemn pact. Unchanged, if an enlisted soldier in pay grade E-7 (Sgt. 1st Class) retires at age 40 with an initial annual retirement salary of $23,000, and if the cost of living climbs an average of three percent per year, then by age 62 the COLA capped of two percent (due to the budget deal) would cut $83,000 (as with all pensions, this because of compounding) off the total value of E-7 retired pay over the 22 years. For a family planning to send kids to college, this is a big percentage of income they were counting on to help pay for it. (More here.)
I have read many misconceptions about military pay and benefits in articles all over the internet. They are everywhere, from Facebook to the Washington Post. I’ve heard people say that the military is lucky to not pay for health insurance. This is completely untrue. We pay for our insurance just like the rest of insured America. It is true that we don’t have co-pays for visits to military treatment facilities, but, again, this is a benefit promised to soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines when they sign on to serve. If we want to go out of network or visit a specialist, co-pays can be comparable to private sector health costs. I’ve also heard people say that we get paid more for each child we have. This is not true. With four kids, I wish it were, but it’s not.
The most despicable aspect of the cut to military retirement pay is that it affects wounded vets, forced to retire due to their injuries, and widows of our war casualties.
The authors of the budget deal, House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Patty Murray, have vowed to amend the bill to exempt disabled retirees and survivors of those killed in action.
The money saved through these cuts is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to be $6.3 billion over the first decade the COLA cap is in effect. The Department of Defense has spent that on the war in Afghanistan in one month! This drop in the bucket of the DoD budget is worth much more to the people who fight there for us and is not worth the shot to morale the cut is causing.
Ryan defends the cuts to military retirement. He even had the gall to say that most retirees to be impacted by the COLA caps will be working in second careers anyway; this fact is irrelevant. The point he is ignoring is that current military personnel have been promised a deal and Congress is breaking it. Such actions are counter to Ryan’s strong Christian identity. The Bible tells us it is not right to take away something that was promised to someone who works for us. I can’t suddenly decide to pay my babysitter $10 per hour instead of the previously agreed upon $13 per hour. The government shouldn’t do it either.
Ryan echoed warnings from The Joint Chiefs about the perils of rising personnel costs. Personnel costs should not take away from the cost of maintaining our defense force, but another solution must be found. Military families have borne the brunt of defense budget cuts. Cuts preceding sequestration took away from our medical care, for instance. Our insurance costs have increased and access to care has dramatically decreased. Service men and women worrying about the stability and health of their families back home may not be as focused on the mission as is necessary. Another solution to the budget shortfalls must be sought. We military families are tired of being the scapegoat. Find the money somewhere else… For instance, from the subsidies given to wealthy owners of farmland who get fat paychecks from the government for not farming the land. The men and women of the military should not be sacrificed in the name of saving the defense budget. Leave our compensation alone.
Go here to tell our leaders to remove the cuts from the budget deal!