Some military retirees scored a small victory this week.
The omnibus spending bill introduced this week to set the funding levels for all federal agencies would repeal cuts to military pensions for some working-age retirees. While the “fix” would keep in place the less generous cost-of-living adjustments for most military retirees younger than 62 years old, it would restore full COLAs for disability retirements and survivor benefits.
The fight for a full repeal, however, goes on.
Following the budget deal announcement, lawmakers on both sides expressed outrage over the proposal, despite the fact that they overwhelmingly voted for its passage. Dozens of lawmakers backed various proposals to undo the cuts, many of whom have said their work is not yet complete.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., one of the most vocal opponents of the pension cuts, has vowed to continue to work on behalf of those not covered in the omnibus fix.
“Although she believes that delivering relief to disabled military retirees and military survivors is a positive development,” Liz Johnson, an Ayotte spokeswoman, told Government Executive, “she continues to push for a full repeal of military retiree benefit cuts.”
Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., was more aggressive in voicing his commitment to press forward.
“I’m telling ya, this is not going away,” said Rigell. “I’m advocating for a full reversal. Generally, I think there’s universal agreement that we need to rein in spending. What Americans don’t want is for anyone to be singled out,” he said. “And you could really make the argument that veterans are being singled out.”
The Military Officers Association of America, which organized its members to speak out against the pension cuts when the deal was first announced, also said the partial repeal did little to mollify its concerns.
“We’re not satisfied with the partial deal,” Phil Odom, a MOAA official, told Government Executive. “It’s a step in the right direction but it’s not the whole enchilada.”
Odom added MOAA surveyed 13,000 of its members and 95 percent of them supported a full repeal. The organization will continue to instruct its members to call lawmakers, hold press conferences and push for legislation to undo the cuts, Odom said.
Even if lawmakers and groups like MOAA are successful this time around, they could still run into trouble next year. The Pentagon currently is reviewing military pay and benefits with its Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which is scheduled to issue a report in early 2015. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the status quo cannot continue.
“The department can no longer put off military compensation reform,” Hagel said in December, in response to the budget deal. “As they are currently structured, military compensation programs are unsustainable.”
No More TRICARE Walk-ins
While retirement pensions remain a hot-button issue, the Pentagon is moving forward with other compensation-related cost-cutting measures.
Defense has announced it will end walk-in appointments in the United States at TRICARE service centers beginning April 1. If you need help understanding your benefits, or need to make a change in your coverage, pick up the phone or go online, TRICARE officials said.
The plan — which will close walk-in services at 189 centers — will save the department $250 million over the next five years, according to Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren. It will not affect any medical benefit or health care service.
All TRICARE service centers located overseas still will offer walk-in appointments.