EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 19, 2013

Column: Military retiree benefits cuts are unfair to our servicemen and women

Kelly Ayotte
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — It’s wrong that the budget agreement in Washington was reached on the backs of our military men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our nation. The deal unfairly singles out military retirees by cutting their hard-earned retirement benefits — including disabled veterans who retire because of their injuries.

Under the proposal, a sergeant first class in the Army who qualifies for retirement at 20 years of service at age 40, and who has most likely deployed multiple times to war, could lose approximately $72,000 between retirement and turning age 62. That’s the result of a provision in the bill that requires a 1 percent annual reduction in the cost of living adjustment for military retirees.

What makes this particularly unfair is that changes made to federal civilian employee retirement benefits apply only to new hires. Our military retirees were not given the same protections.

When I pressed for answers on who would be impacted, the Department of Defense informed my office that the cuts would also apply to service members medically retired — including those who have sustained injuries in combat, men and women who have sacrificed mightily for our nation.

Retired service members are the only ones who are seeing their benefits cut midstream in this budget deal. Where’s the so-called “shared sacrifice”? It’s a demoralizing message to send our men and women serving in harm’s way in Afghanistan and around the world.

Given that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government will spend $47 trillion over the next 10 years, with just a little effort we can work together to find $6 billion to replace these unfair benefit reductions. And with billions in wasteful spending throughout the federal government, it’s a false choice to suggest that the government will shut down unless military retiree benefits are cut.

If both parties work together now, we could easily replace these cuts. For starters, over the past three years, the Government Accountability Office has uncovered 162 areas of fragmentation, overlap, and duplication in federal agencies -- adding up to hundreds of billions in unnecessary spending.

Although I introduced two proposals to replace cuts to military retiree benefits, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democrats blocked all amendments to the budget deal from being considered and voted on. Saying we should just pass this budget agreement with these offensive cuts in it and fix it later is a cop out and no comfort to our military retirees, who now have to rely on Washington politicians to change a law they voted for.

My amendments would have easily replaced these unfair benefit cuts. One proposal would have saved billions by stopping a scheme uncovered by the Treasury Department watchdog in which illegal immigrants fraudulently claim the Additional Child Tax Credit. Another proposal would close a loophole that costs billions in which some states, not including New Hampshire, dole out nominal energy assistance benefits — as low as $1 in some cases — to automatically increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for households that may otherwise be ineligible for higher benefits. These are just two examples among many of how we could have covered the $6 billion in cuts to military retiree benefits.

We would not enjoy the freedoms we have in our great country if not for the sacrifices of our servicemen and women. Military retirees earned their benefits through their brave service to our nation. Congress needs to fix this provision now.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from Nashua, is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Budget Committee.