• July 25, 2014

Veterans groups feel betrayed by budget

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Posted: Friday, December 13, 2013 4:30 am

BELTON — When the budget deal struck by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., passed the House, it was over the objections of some of America’s veterans.

The Military Coalition, a collection of 27 military and veterans organizations, wrote to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders Wednesday night to express their “grave concern” over the budget deal.

Particularly troubling to veterans organizations is a 1 percent cut to pension cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees under 62 years old.

Ray Kelley, national legislative director for Veterans of Foreign Wars, said that a 1 percent cut could have drastic impacts, costing some retirees almost $100,000 over the next 20 years.

“If you do the math, a person who retired as an E-7 would lose $84,000 from age 42 to 62,” Kelley said.

Because of the relative youth of military retirees, most of whom enlisted in their late teens or early 20s and retired in their late 30s to early 40s, the cost of pensions for working-age veterans became a political lightning rod attracting attention from deficit hawks.

While the passed budget deal has no plans to eliminate pensions for military retirees who go to work in the public sector, so-called double dipping retirement plans, Kelley said the idea “has been coming up for two or three years now.”

“We’ve been able to convince lawmakers to leave military pensions alone for now,” Kelley said. “But if the budget deal falls through, it might be on the table.”

He said if the Senate fails to pass the budget, “VA benefits will definitely be on the chopping block.”

Kelley explained that in the hours leading up to the vote, his team met with lawmakers to urge them to reconsider cutting military pensions.

“It’s up to lawmakers to find the savings to balance the budget and pay down the deficit,” Kelley said. “They shouldn’t be trying to do it on the backs of the men and women who served this country.”

Kelley’s sentiments were echoed by Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, who issued a statement decrying the proposed reduction to the cost-of-living allowance and registering “strong opposition” to the cut.

“The men and women who have served our country honorably and well deserve to be treated in like fashion once they have hung up their uniforms,” Dellinger said.

In an attempt to pressure Congress to abandon the proposed cut, the VFW sent out an action alert Wednesday urging members to call their representatives. Kelley said his organization was “able to get 5,000 emails sent in 24 hours.”

“And we know they’re getting through because we get emails back asking us to stop,” Kelley said. “Staffers say, ‘We’ll do whatever the VFW wants, just stop this.’”

Local branches of veterans organizations weren’t as quick to take action as their national counterparts.

Merle La Pointe, commander of VFW Post 1820 in Temple, said his group has “just been following on with the national organization.”

John Potts, commander of American Legion Post 133 in Temple, said his organization “hadn’t talked about” the proposed cut to military retiree pensions.

“We’ve been busy with our donations,” Potts said. “Some of the members got some petitions from AARP, but we didn’t talk about it in a meeting.”

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