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Michael Moffett: Congress was right to trim veterans' pension increases

January 04. 2014 8:35PM

PRESIDENT OBAMA recently signed off on a federal budget deal that was the product of rare bipartisan cooperation. It included countless line items, but one that's received much attention involved a one percent benefits decrease in the annual cost-of-living adjustment over 10 years for working-age military retirees.

Having qualified for a military pension, I was quite interested in this "cut," which veterans' advocates took to the airwaves to decry. Senators from across the political spectrum, led by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., vowed to reverse it. New Hampshire's U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, proposed the $6 billion in cuts be paid for by increasing taxes on corporations.

Wrong answer.

New Hampshire's U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, introduced legislation - the Keeping Our Promise to Our Military Heroes Act (S. 1869) - to repeal the COLA reduction. Sen. Ayotte's proposal would replace the military retiree benefit cuts by stopping a scheme that currently allows illegal immigrants to claim the additional child tax credit - which currently costs taxpayers billions.

That makes more sense than Shaheen's proposal, but the cut should remain.

We need to change our current structure - i.e. slightly modify benefits. Not for Wounded Warriors, for whom we can't do enough, but for us healthy retirees.

The above statement guarantees me the opprobrium of many fellow veterans. But someone needs to say it.

Every constituency receiving Washington money argues for more federal funds. And folks get elected (and reelected) to Congress by bringing home the bacon. That's our system, a system which requires a chief executive with the courage to counter built-in congressional over-spending tendencies. Unfortunately, the current administration has been the worst in history in terms of spending. The debt numbers and wasteful policies speak for themselves.

The Obama administration has saddled future generations with unconscionable debt, in return for short-term political advantages. Why any informed young person would support this is beyond me.

A different President, John F. Kennedy, famously said "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

I am grateful for the privilege of wearing our country's uniform, and I appreciate all I've received over 25 years of active and reserve duty. After returning from Afghanistan in 2010, I had several operations at Bethesda Naval Hospital. They didn't cost me a dime, but they would have cost tens of thousands of dollars otherwise. My education benefits, similarly, have been worth tens of thousands of dollars. I could go on and on. An Army private now earns more than $41,000 annually if you include base housing and food allowances.

I'm old enough to remember how Vietnam veterans were treated 40 years ago. The country has done an about-face on its popular attitudes towards the military. Polls now indicate the military is among the most highly respected professions. Let's keep it that way by maintaining our ethos of sacrifice and service.

A 1 percent benefits decrease over 10 years doesn't seem Draconian to me, especially if it sets the stage for other cuts everywhere else that can redeem our children's future.

I'm sure John F. Kennedy would agree.


Michael Moffett of Loudon was a Marine Corps infantry officer who saw duty in the Persian Gulf and in Afghanistan. He is a professor at NHTI-Concord and author of "FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor's Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back."

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