Military retirees gathering in Killeen last weekend said they are celebrating Congress’s repeal of cuts to retiree benefits, while preparing for future battles.
Congress voted last week to restore the cost-of-living adjustment to military retirees who are younger than 62. The trim had come as part of December’s bipartisan budget deal, and with veterans groups leading the charge, had been under bipartisan attack ever since. The bill was signed Saturday by the president.
More than a dozen chapters from the Military Officers Association of America Texas Council of Chapters came together Friday evening at the Shilo Inn in Killeen, and the repeal was a hot topic of discussion.
The rollback of the military pension benefits — which, according to the Congressional Research Service, would strip a typical military enlisted person of about $69,000 in lifetime retirement benefits — is expected to cost about $6 billion.
“We are about military pay, compensation and benefits for those who currently serve, are separated or retired,” said retired Air Force Col. Brian Anderson, deputy director of council and chapter affairs for MOAA in Washington, D.C.
Proof of their work can be seen in the past week’s repeal of cuts to the cost-of-living adjustments for working-age retirees, he said to applause from the crowd.
“Thank you to all of you, the membership who stepped forward on this issue,” Anderson said.
His office sent 300,000 messages to Congress on the issue from a national membership of 380,000, he added.
“It you think they’re going to stop there, you’re kidding yourself,” Anderson said. Other benefits he worries are on the chopping block include the commissaries, Tricare and pay raises for active duty.
To protect these benefits, the goal of MOAA is to have a chapter in each congressional district in America, and help bridge the gap between veterans and civilians. He cited only 5 percent of the country has served, and many are of the rapidly aging World War II and Korean War generations.
“We need you out there in the community standing up for veterans and military members by sharing what it means to serve,” Anderson said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted to restore the benefits.
“Our men and women in uniform have given their very best to America,” he said in a statement. “The very least we can do is make sure they receive their benefits, and let them know that they have our full support and gratitude for their service to our country.”
The three senators who voted against the bill were Thomas Carper, D-Del., Daniel Coats, R-Ind., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
“I supported an effort to restore these benefits, which was fully offset with alternative spending cuts, but Democrats refused to allow a vote on this proposal,” Coats said in a statement. “Repealing these cuts today with only a promise to pay for it 10 years down the road is fiscally irresponsible and again delays making the hard choices needed to get our financial house in order.”
The original Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who is facing a difficult re-election in November. Pryor’s bill, which was set aside for the House legislation, would have restored the COLA benefits without replacing them with other budget trims.
The House bill that passed Feb. 11 also extended sequestration levels for Medicare spending — an unpopular provision among Democrats.
“Cutting our military retirees’ earned benefits breaks a promise to those men and women who have raised their hands to serve,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who serves in the National Guard, said in a statement after voting for the House measure. “The bill today will restore those cuts for our military retirees. However, I am deeply disappointed that the cuts were replaced with an extension of harmful sequester cuts on Medicare. This is not the kind of long-term solution that our country needs.”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars issued a statement praising the vote.
“The world will remain a very dangerous and unpredictable place even after America ends its involvement in Afghanistan, and future military retirees will be required to serve just as long and perhaps sacrifice even more than their predecessors,” the VFW said. “It is in that regard that the VFW will continue to fight for a full repeal of the COLA penalty, and we hope that this vote will continue that conversation.”
Wesley Lowrey, of the Washington Post, contributed to this report.
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