Reversal won't help future service members

Legislation reversing a $6 billion cut to military pensions won't affect the pensions of future service members, raising complaints from veterans groups.

Most of the bills introduced to reverse the cut have ensured that active and future service members would be unaffected by the cuts.

But the bill hastily written and approved by the House on Tuesday only repeals the cuts for active service members who enlisted before Jan. 1, 2014.

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“The bill is a compromise we cannot entirely support because it does so at the expense of future military retirees who will be required to serve and sacrifice just as much as their predecessors,” Joe Davis, public affairs director for the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW).

“The VFW wants a full repeal of the [cost-of-living adjustment] COLA penalty for all generations, and we hope this vote continues that conversation,” he said.

The December 2013 budget deal included a COLA reduction of 1 percentage-point for working-age retirees under 62, which sparked a huge backlash in Congress and among veterans groups.

“This is progress; this fixes one or two problems of this issue, but at the end of the day, they need to fully repeal the cuts,” said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “This leaves the door open for Congress using veterans and retirees as their piggybank, and we don’t think the budget should ever be balanced on their backs.”

The House passed legislation Tuesday in a 326-90 vote that repeals the COLA cuts for current service members and veterans, which is paid for by extending the sequester on mandatory spending by one year until 2024.

Mike Hayden, director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), said that the bill solves the immediate problem with the pension reductions because any new enlistees wouldn’t see retirement pay for at least 20 years.

“We would prefer to have a full repeal and allow the commission that’s out there to look at compensation retirement and have an opportunity to do so,” Hayden said. “ But we’re actually not opposed to [the legislation] because it does take a step in the right direction.”

While the COLA repeal bill appears to have more than enough support in the Senate, at least one lawmaker said he might vote against it because it doesn’t apply to new service members.

“While it covers the current retirees, it does not cover future retirees who would then have to bear the burden of the COLA cut,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, who cited opposition from several veterans groups as reason he was leaning against it.

“It’s a partial fix, but it doesn’t go as far as it should,” Sanders said.

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