By Leo Shane III
Stars and Stripes
WASHINGTON — With Congress back this week, veterans groups are vowing to resume their fight against trims to military retirement benefits.
But what they’re really fighting for is relevancy, and to make sure the country hasn’t forgotten about them.
Military advocates worry that Congress’ willingness to attack veterans’ retirement checks shows that lawmakers — and perhaps the public — have already moved on from the wars of the last decade, and that the sacrifices and promises made will be forgotten.
“This is what happens when you have an unengaged population whose focus starts to shift away,” said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “When times get tough, people say everyone has to sacrifice. But not everyone has been sacrificing for the last 10 years.”
The cut is a 1 percent trim on cost-of-living increases for working-age military retirees. Veterans 62 and older won’t see any changes. But those younger — including medically retired servicemembers — will see their annual increases trimmed starting in January 2016.
The move will save about $6.3 billion over 10 years, and was included as part of a budget deal designed to avert another government shutdown.
Lawmakers who backed the deal bemoaned the military retirement changes but said fixing the problem later was preferable to jeopardizing budget harmony now. At least 14 separate bills to repeal the cut have been introduced in the two weeks since the deal passed.
In the last week, editorial boards at USA Today and the Washington Post have called the veterans’ opposition out of touch, noting that the military’s generous retirement benefits aren’t comparable to any private sector pensions. The Post called it a “dishonor” not to change a military retirement system long overdue for an update.
But veterans groups argue that work is underway, in the form of a compensation commission reviewing large-scale changes to military pay and benefits.