Veterans to Obama: Address military pension cuts in State of the Union

A leading veterans group is calling on President Obama to support restoring cuts to military pensions in his State of the Union speech Tuesday.

“We expect to hear the president stands with us in opposing these cuts,” Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. 

“We’ve got to remember that folks are fighting and dying in Afghanistan right now, and this impacts them,” he said. 

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Veterans groups have been upping the pressure on Congress to undo cuts to a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) to working-age military retiree pensions that were included in last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act. 

Although the COLA cuts slow the growth of military retiree pensions to one percent below inflation beginning 2015, veterans groups say the worry is that this is only the beginning to cutting other benefits of those who sacrificed in the last decade of wars. 

“What’s next? If they come after retirement benefits in a time of war, where’s the next fight for us going to be? Are we going to have to fight over mental health support?” Rieckhoff said.

Recently-retired Army Maj. Eric Phillips said the cuts also affect veterans' families as well.

The former helicopter crew chief turned medical department officer said his wife moved with him 14 times, and the cuts will affect her as well.

"She moved all around the world with me, picked up and left, and had to start over each time," he said. "Now we're at the end here and Congress is changing our benefits at the end, instead of making this grandfathered for the future," he told the Hill.

“This is going to have a devastating effect on morale and I predict that folks are not going to want to continue with career service unless we keep our promise to our military, our veterans and their families," he said. 

Two members of the Veterans Affairs Committee Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alas.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) appeared at the press conference, saying they had heard from constituents and supported restoring the cuts. 

Begich said he was optimistic the cuts would be restored soon, citing a new bipartisan “tone” in Congress. 

“Some discussions are occurring,” said Begich. “I do think there is an immediacy. There’s not a desire to hang this all the way to the end.”

“Congress usually waits until the last minute,” he added. “On this one, I don’t think that’s of interest to members.”