Hagel: Congress should fix budget deal for disabled vets

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday endorsed calls for Congress to stop the cuts to military pensions for disabled veterans in the budget deal that passed the Senate this week.

“This should not apply to medically disabled retirees,” Hagel said at a press conference Thursday. “These need to be exempted.”

The budget deal that was sent to President Obama’s desk Wednesday includes $6 billion in savings through a reduction in the cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military retirees.

The agreement was supposed to exempt veterans who had to retire for medical reasons, but they would currently also be impacted by the cuts.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who struck the deal with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), said that including disabled veterans was a technical error that would be quickly fixed.

“A provision in this deal which mistakenly impacted retirement benefits for disabled veterans ... will be fixed in short order,” Murray said Wednesday. “This technical error can, will and should be addressed.”

But service organizations and a group of lawmakers want to go further than exempting disabled veterans, calling for a repeal of the entire military pension provision from the budget deal.

There has been a flurry of bills introduced this week that would undo the cuts to military retirement benefits, some by replacing the savings elsewhere and others just reversing the cuts.

The Pentagon, however, has endorsed the budget deal, which provides the military with $31 billion in sequester relief over the next two years.

Hagel said that he was supportive of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) plans to review the cuts in the budget deal and other military compensation issues.

Hagel acknowledged that proposals to cut military compensation would be “controversial and unpopular,” pointing to the backlash over the budget deal, but said they were necessary as the Pentagon’s budget is reduced.

“We all know that we need to slow the cost growth in military compensation,” Hagel said. “Otherwise we’ll have to make disproportionate cuts to military readiness and modernization. DOD cannot sustain these current programs as they are structured.”