Blue Byline

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Congress: DO NOT mess with military retirement

Post by Brian O'Neill on Sep. 26, 2011 at 9:49 am with 8 Comments »
September 26, 2011 8:11 pm

In the last decade of war, most of us sat out and tuned out. Meanwhile, our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen deployed. And deployed. And deployed.

Occasionally we stopped tweeting and texting long enough to watch the news, mourn the dead, wave the flag or tie a yellow ribbon. Perhaps we took that extra step of approaching a uniformed serviceman or woman to say, “Thank you for your service.”

But the times have changed. And the times are tough.

Congress now faces the unpleasant task of hacking off sizeable chunks from the budget, including portions of our nation’s vast defense costs (Trib article 9/25). In addition to expensive weapon’s systems and nation-building initiatives, the retirement promised to veterans actually appears to be on the table.

That is, in a word, outrageous. Twenty years and half pay- that was the deal.

There are numerous examples of pensions lost or shrunk in the private sector. The difference is that the capitalism system has always carried the potential for great reward as well as great loss. Any comparison to military benefits would be comparing apples to oranges (or grenades).

Public sector workers, myself included, have negotiated stable retirement benefits. This sector is also susceptible to the effect of shrinking budgets. In Washington State, for example, the pension plan for public safety workers was severely cut in 1979. Those firefighters and police officers employed after this date were aware of this when they joined. More importantly, those hired prior to this date saw the retirement plan they signed up to receive remain untouched. .

Such is not the case for military members working within the federal system. Congress controls the purse strings, including wages and benefits, and can make changes regardless of existing expectations. As usual, our politicians failed to look ahead and adjust the retirement system years ago.

If there were ever a time to unilaterally change the retirement system for all active duty personnel, now is not that time.

Setting aside the hardships–numerous deployments, the missed births, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations, forgetting the workdays that stretched into weeks without rest, the missed meals and sleep, the roar of rockets, exploding IEDs and the constant anxiety from continuous combat–and the ardent fact remains that we must honor our promise of a well-earned retirement for soldiers who chose to remain in uniform.

Most of our volunteer force swore their oath knowing full well that deployment was a when, not an if. Those choosing to make a career in the service did so for many reasons, including their unwillingness to leave a job unfinished and their desire to mentor those lacking battlefield experience. For these reasons, for all of the extra effort, hardship and loss of time at home with family, the veterans who choosing to remain were promised a retirement they deemed worthy of their sacrifice.

This imploding federal budget has thus become a crucible, wherein our nation’s best intentions are being melted down to the basic ingredients.

The question, then, will be whether our patriotic gestures, heartfelt gratitude and the sworn promises made to our battle-scarred servicemen and women are the true expression of our nation’s sentiments or merely empty rhetoric.

Our answer is simple. Let us honor our promise.

Leave a comment Comments → 8
  1. BlaineCGarver says:

    They have already lied about medical and dental “free for life”….I can almost promise a war if they cut our retirement.

  2. Social security was the deal as well, sadly deals change when conditions change. I don’t like it, but such is life after over a trillion bucks have been wasted on needless wars. In my profession, births and dates were missed as well, during months away from the States. True I.E.D.s were not part of my jobs equation most of the time, then again it is not for most in the military as well. I do believe they, when injured, should have medical benefits for life to cover those injuries, but politicians on both sides are looking to cut those as well.

  3. royboy361 says:

    Unfortunately cuts to the military are a popular item. The men and women in uniform have little choice but to stay or walk. I decided to stay and did my 20 years and was glad I did to this day.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    I believe we all agree that as the economy shrinks so does the Pentagon’s budget. The point remains, however, that it would be dishonorable to gut the retirement plan promised to military members AFTER you’ve taken your pound of flesh off their backs. Let those cuts start with the new recruits.

  5. sepalson says:

    You civilians have no idea what it’s like to miss birthdays, holidays, be away from your families for 1 year or more at a time, barely miss getting blown up by an IED after a “trusted” Iragi Army “friend” told you that the IED was over “there” as opposed to being”over here”. Don’t worry, if congress f***ks with the benefits, you will see it firsthand as a draftee due to the mass exodus.

    Jim

  6. diogenes says:

    If you really want to hear an outcry from our federal legislators, we should reduce their pension plan to that of the military. If both pension plans are based on time on the job and sacrifice of life, limb and family time sacrifice, the military pension plan should greatly exceed that of our legislators. It’s disgraceful that all facets of the federal budget are on the chopping block except for the salary, pension and health care of our own federal representatives and senators.

  7. sepalson: I’m afraid I’ve spent most of my time away from home a year at a time for most of my professional life( 26 years overseas ) living overseas in different countries, missing most family functions. It is true however I have not been exposed to IED’s, just like most members of the military have not. BTW, I’d be very happy if there was a mass exit of military personnel, as it would definitely speed up our departure from our unnecessary, un winable in the long run wars. But watch,it won’t happen. Civilian jobs are not so easy to come by at the moment.
    .
    diogenes: You Sir are spot on, I’ve been saying something like this for a long time, except I’d suggest , their pay should be advanced or cut not by them, rather it should be controlled by vote. In theory after all, they are supposed to represent us. We provide the money that they live off of, we should control the number.
    The problem IMO is that the electorate in general could care less.
    It’s only when the people become fed up, that things will change.

  8. Yeah, if you make a deal with someone, you should hold up your end of the bargain.

    Pull up salary charts for enlisted military personnel. Most military won’t see anything close to the median national salary level for their first 15 years of service. The deal is if they put in the 20 most physically fit years of their life at low pay, they’ll recover than on the back end.

    There aren’t a lot of civilian jobs driving tanks. Retired military start their civilian career path 20 years behind everyone else. The schooling and entry level positions everyone else got out of the way in their late teens and early 20s are just starting for them in their late 30s and early 40s. Half pay barely picks up the slack. They’ll always be 20 years behind everyone else until the day they retire in their 60s.

    IMO, it’s more than just honoring promises made. It’s more that the promised compensation is fair and reasonable. Anything less under the circumstances would be decidedly unjust.

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