Ayotte: Deal cuts military survivor benefits

Greg Nash

The Pentagon has determined that the budget deal passed last month cutting $6 billion in military pensions would also reduce survivor benefits, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said Monday.

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But the cuts to survivor benefits and two other programs related to combat and disability pay will be repealed in the omnibus spending bill, said a senior Senate aide familiar with the government funding measure expected to be released later Monday.

"At the end of the day, this will all be addressed," the aide said.

Ayotte has been one of the most vocal senators opposing the cut to military retirement benefits in the budget deal, which provides $31 billion in sequester relief to the Pentagon over the next two years. She pointed on Monday to the cuts to survivors' benefits as well as special combat compensation programs as new reasons to repeal the full $6 billion in pension cuts.

Ayotte asked the Pentagon to detail how the military pension cut in last month's budget deal would affect various benefit programs. The department told her that the reduction in the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for military retirement pay also reduces payments for survivors’ benefits and the combat compensation programs.

“The more I press the Pentagon for answers, the more I learn how egregious the military benefit cuts are in the budget deal,” Ayotte said in a statement Monday.

“The cost of living adjustment cuts unfairly shortchange military retirees, military survivors, and the combat-injured to pay for more Washington spending,” she said.

Ayotte is one of numerous lawmakers who have introduced legislation that would repeal the $6 billion retirement benefits cut that was included in the budget agreement reached by Budget Chairs Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

One third of lawmakers in both chambers have signed onto the effort to repeal the cuts, but a bipartisan offset has not been identified that both parties can agree to.

A group of Republicans tried to undo the pension cut with Ayotte’s bill as an amendment to also offset a three-month unemployment insurance extension.

But Democrats rejected Ayotte’s measure, which would prevent illegal immigrants from taking the additional child tax credit.

Congress will reverse $600 million of the pension cuts in the omnibus spending bill by repealing the benefit reductions for medically retired veterans, the Senate aide said, which will also reverse the reductions for the other programs.

Ryan and Murray said medically retired veterans were only included in the initial budget deal due to a technical error.

The overall $6 billion retirement benefit cuts will not be repealed in the omnibus as some lawmakers had hoped, the aide said.

Ryan has defended the military retirement benefit cuts, arguing that the law only reduces pension benefits to $1.8 million from $1.7 million for a service member who retires at age 38.

Murray has expressed a willingness to reexamine the pension reductions so long as an offset was identified that was acceptable to both parties.

Ayotte laid out three separate programs that would receive cuts under the budget deal passed last month: the survivor benefit plan (SBP), concurrent retired and disability pay (CRDP) and combat-related special compensation (CRSC).

The Pentagon said that nearly 19,000 recipients of survivor benefits would be impacted by the COLA reduction, which will cut the annual adjustment by 1 percentage point below inflation beginning in 2015.

The concurrent pay program allows retirees to receive both military retirement pay and Veterans Affairs disability compensation for service members who have a VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher.

Combat-related special compensation is given to non-disability retirees with combat-related injuries and a VA disability rating of at least 10 percent.

--This report was updated at 3:00 p.m.

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