Pentagon Won’t Push Changes in Veterans Retirement in Budget Request

But Defense officials said no final decisions have been made about changes to how military personnel get paid.

Levin: No-fly needs partners.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Jan. 28, 2014, 6:56 a.m.

The De­fense De­part­ment won’t pro­pose any re­tire­ment changes dur­ing its 2015 fisc­al year budget re­quest, De­fense of­fi­cials said Tues­day.

“We won’t pro­pose any­thing on re­tire­ment be­ne­fits in 2015, we are wait­ing for and work­ing with the com­mis­sion,” said Christine Fox, the act­ing deputy De­fense sec­ret­ary at a Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee hear­ing, when asked about po­ten­tial changes in the up­com­ing budget re­quest.

The Mil­it­ary Com­pens­a­tion and Re­tire­ment Mod­ern­iz­a­tion Com­mis­sion will turn in a re­port by Feb­ru­ary 2015 that will re­com­mend changes to the mil­it­ary’s com­pens­a­tion and re­tire­ment struc­ture. The re­port was sup­posed to be turned in by May, but the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act passed last year ex­ten­ded the com­mis­sion’s dead­line.

Ad­mir­al James “Sandy” Win­nefeld, vice chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with Fox, adding that any changes to re­tire­ment should in­clude a “hol­ist­ic” ap­proach, that he said the com­mis­sion is tak­ing.

A pro­vi­sion in the budget agree­ment that cut mil­it­ary pen­sions for work­ing-age re­tir­ees gained quick back­lash by mem­bers of Con­gress in both parties. It in­cluded a 1 per­cent cut to cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments over 10 years, sav­ing the De­fense De­part­ment ap­prox­im­ately $6 bil­lion.

Mem­bers of Con­gress re­stored the COLA fund­ing for med­ic­ally-re­tired mil­it­ary vet­er­ans un­der the om­ni­bus bill, but that is less than a tenth of the total fund­ing.

Fox said that no De­fense De­part­ment of­fi­cials were con­sul­ted on the de­cision to in­clude the COLA cuts as part of the budget agree­ment. And that if the rest of the fund­ing isn’t re­stored, the De­fense De­part­ment would push for cur­rent ser­vice mem­bers and re­tir­ees to be grand­fathered in so they would be ex­empt from the cuts. Any changes made by the com­mis­sion next year would also in­clude grand­fath­er­ing.

Both Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors on the com­mit­tee pre­dicted that the full fund­ing would be re­stored quickly. Chair­man Carl Lev­in said he ex­pects the com­mit­tee “will have the abil­ity to act promptly” on a bill.

A pro­pos­al by Sen­at­ors Mark Pry­or and Kay Hagan has been re­ferred to the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. It does not in­clude an off­set. The Demo­crat­ic duo’s bill is one of more than a dozen pro­pos­als that have been in­tro­duced to re­store the fund­ing. Many re­com­mend pay­ing for the fund­ing with polit­ic­ally po­lar­iz­ing is­sues that will make the le­gis­la­tion prac­tic­ally im­possible to pass.

Sen. Ro­ger Wick­er warned against delay­ing restor­ing the funds, adding that without quick ac­tion “it holds the po­ten­tial that it will be like se­quest­ra­tion, and go in­to ef­fect des­pite every­one’s prot­est­a­tions to the con­trary.”

And De­fense of­fi­cials hes­it­ated to dic­tate when Con­gress should re­store the fund­ing, with Win­nefeld say­ing “the tim­ing is com­pletely up to the Con­gress,” as long as the 1-per­cent cut “is not taken off the table per­man­ently for the com­mis­sion.”

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