Senators press Army secretary on retirement benefits

A bipartisan group of senators is urging the Army to immediately reverse a policy that would force some officers to lose as much as $1,000 per month in retirement benefits.

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: Trump officials defend changes to family planning program | Senators unveil bipartisan package on health costs | Democrats pass T spending bill with HHS funds Chris Murphy may oppose bipartisan health bill unless it addresses ObamaCare 'sabotage' Key senators release bipartisan package to lower health care costs MORE (D-Wash.) and Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonVA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides Senators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump MORE (R-Ga.), along with 13 other senators, urged Army Secretary John McHugh in a letter this week to reverse a policy where officers being asked to retire would do so at their highest enlisted rank if they spent fewer than eight years as an officer. 

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Murray and Isakson say the policy is unfair to those who have been selected for retirement under budget cuts, but are just short of the eight years. 

The senators say this would affect a "significant number of captains and majors who are former non-commissioned officers."

This year, the Army required 19,000 captain and majors to go through early separation boards. Of those, the Army is scheduled to involuntarily cut 1,188 captain and 550 majors, according to the News Tribune.

The Army reached a post-9/11 peak of 570,000 troops in 2010, and is scheduled to go down to as few as 420,000 under defense budget cuts by 2019. 

Murray and Isakson wrote that many of the soldiers who will be affected had answered the Army's call for more officers as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ramped up. 

"Many are being retired at enlisted ranks they have not held in years. This is particularly disturbing because had they ignored the Army’s call for officers most would have been promoted at least once more and been eligible to retire at a higher enlisted rank," they said. 

“To demote these soldiers in retirement is an injustice that devalues their service and will materially disadvantage them and their families for the rest of their lives," they added. 

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"We strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to rectify this situation in order to allow these soldiers to retire at the rank they have earned and appropriately honor their service to our nation,” Murray and Isakson wrote. 

Defense officials have been urging members of Congress to reverse or relieve the defense cuts imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which doubled planned defense cuts of $500 billion over 10 years. 

The cuts were proposed by the White House as way to force lawmakers to agree on tax and spending reform to, but they failed and the cuts kicked in last year. 

However, Defense officials also say military benefits have become too expensive, and exceed those for civilian workers, and need to come down either way. 

Lawmakers have so far been unable to overturn the cuts, with members of both parties opposing lifting the cuts, replacing them with cuts elsewhere, or lifting cuts on other domestic spending too. 

The issue of military benefits is highly contentious, and has been holding up the Armed Services Committees' finalization of a 2015 defense bill. House lawmakers oppose an increase of military insurance co-pays and a reduction housing allowances, but senators favor them. 

Lawmakers expect to tackle the issue when a commission on military benefits finishes recommendations in February, and when the Pentagon submits its 2016 budget request in March.