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Medical retirees included in COLA reductions

Dec. 17, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Sen. Kelly Ayotte has introduced amendments to eliminate the $6.5 billion provision that cuts retirement pay.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte has introduced amendments to eliminate the $6.5 billion provision that cuts retirement pay. (Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
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Military personnel who are medically retired — those with combat or service-related injuries so severe they were offered full military retirement pay and benefits — will see their retired pay cut as a result of the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said Tuesday.

Prior to a vote that cleared the way for the Senate to approve the act, Ayotte, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., stood with military advocacy groups to denounce the portion of the plan that slices retirement pay for military medical retirees, some of whom leave with less than 20 years of service and would see more years of lower COLAs.

A provision in the act limits annual cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees under age 62 to 1 percentage point less than annual inflation in consumer prices. But while the act discusses those with over 20 years of service with “non-disability retirement” as being affected, Ayotte said it includes the most seriously injured or ill who obtained full retirement benefits.

Ayotte said she received confirmation from the Pentagon that this group is included in the cuts. “It was a challenge to get confirmation from the Defense Department, but they admitted it,” she said after the news conference. “It’s horrendous.”

“Is it a choice to save the budget or screw military retirees just to prove we can get something done?” Graham said.

The lawmakers said their colleagues were mistaken in believing the bill did not affect disabled veterans because it does not trim Veterans Affairs Department disability compensation.

Ayotte has proposed amendments to eliminate the $6.5 billion provision that would slow the rate of growth in retirement pay.

She said she has identified through Government Accountability Office reports more than 160 programs that are duplicative or overlap.

The senators predicted the bill likely will pass as written, and then be sent to President Obama to sign into law. But Graham urged Obama to take a stand on the military retirement provision and promised to “unleash the forces of hell” to change the law if it passes.

“But as you know, a federal statute is pretty hard to undo once it’s done,” Graham added.

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday his panel will review the provision before it goes into effect in late 2015.

Sen. John McCain expressed confidence that the issue could be fixed before then.

“Sen. Levin has already said he will take a look at it,” McCain said, adding that the Pentagon already has in motion a Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission that is due to issue a report in the spring.

“It’s a long time before this goes into effect,” McCain said of the reduced COLA plan.

The Military Coalition, an umbrella organization for more than 30 military and veterans’ advocacy groups that share a common legislative agenda, stood behind the senators to voice their outrage over the planned reductions to military retirement.

Joe Davis, public affairs director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars,, called it a “breach of faith with the military” that threatens the all-volunteer force.

“This affects those who are on active duty right now. If the economy improves, I think many will leave at the mid-career point because they can get better jobs. And as for those who have served 19, 20 years or just retired? What does this say to them?” Barnes said.

A procedural vote on Tuesday cleared the way for the Senate to consider the bill by Thursday.

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