Military pension cuts worth about one percentage point off the annual increase in pay to retired United States service members, but included in the new $2 trillion budget deal passed by Congress last week, look likely to spark a political showdown as U.S. legislators return to work in the new year.
Veterans groups promise to oppose the cuts, and lawmakers have said that the cuts will be reviewed when Congress reconvenes in January.
Many Republicans opposed the budget deal on the basis of the military pay cuts alone, but the GOP budget point-man, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — who ran for vice-president in the 2012 election — says the time to “reform” the U.S. military’s pay structure is long overdue.
“There’s simply no choice between responsible reforms of military compensation and making what our military leadership has called ‘disproportionate cuts to military readiness and modernization,'” Ryan, who co-authored the budget deal with Washington Democratic Senator Patty Murray, wrote in a recent op-ed quoted by The Washington Times. “To be clear, the money we save from this reform will go right back to the military. Veterans aren’t Washington’s piggy bank. They deserve fair compensation. And we owe them a benefit structure they can count on.”
But co-author Murray said that going back into the budget deal to make changes would be worse than letting the pension cuts go ahead.
“Jeopardizing this deal right now only threatens our national security, and it will force layoffs of those very service members and civilian military personnel that so many members have come out here to speak for,” Murray said in a National Public Radio story.
The cuts are projected to save just $6 billion, amounting to a mere 0.3 percent of the total proposed budget. They would apply to service members under the age of 62. Currently, 840,000 of the roughly 2 million military retirees who receive the pension payments are under 62 years old.
“A sergeant first class who retires at age 40 could stand to lose $72,000 by the time he turns or she turns age 62,” said Repubican New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte.
Veterans often struggle financially and rely on their pensions and other government benefits. An estimated 900,000 veterans currently require help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, just to buy food, according to a report on the Military.com website.
But most veterans receive no pension from the military at all. A recent Washington Post report on the military compensation system called the pension program “unfair and costly.”
Pensions are paid only to military retirees with 20 years of service or more. That counts out all but 17 percent of former members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
According to the Post report, a Naval Petty officer with 20 years service who earned $80,000 per year would start retirement with a pension of $2,200 per month, plus access to a low-cost health insurance plan, or even free health care if they choose to be treated at military medical facilities.