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No action slated to restore cut in vets' pensions

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 04. 2014 9:01PM

If Congress wanted to, it could restore cuts in cost-of-living adjustments to working-age military retirees when it returns to work this week.

Or it could wait awhile.

Or it could do nothing.

The U.S. senators from New Hampshire say they are ready to act, but they have different ideas about how.

The cut is small - a 1-percentage-point reduction in the annual cost-of-living increase - but many lawmakers have vowed to roll back the cut when Congress returns to work.

Staffers at U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte's office said senators disagree over where to find the savings to offset the $6 billion cost to restore the military retiree pay cut.

"Legislation she has proposed to repeal and replace military retiree benefit cuts could be passed immediately if the Senate and House took it up for a vote when Congress reconvenes," said Jeff Grappone, Ayotte's spokesman.

Under a budget deal, a sergeant 1st class in the Army who qualifies for retirement after 20 years of service at age 40 could lose about $72,000 between the date of his retirement and the date he turns 62, according to Ayotte's office.

The measure is slated to take effect in December 2015.

Several thousand Granite State veterans collecting retirement checks are affected. According to figures from the New Hampshire Employment Security office, there were 4,087 military retirees younger than 65 as of Sept. 30, 2012. No figure was immediately available for those younger than 62.

Both U.S. senators from New Hampshire have proposed bills to reverse the measure, tapping different areas to cut to achieve the savings needed to restore the COLAs.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, introduced the Military Retirement Restoration Act, which would eliminate a tax loophole for offshore corporations.

Ayotte, a Republican, proposed preventing illegal immigrants from qualifying for child tax credits. Filers would be required to furnish a Social Security number.

Shaheen Deputy Press Secretary Nick Brown said the senator "hopes both parties can come together to replace the cuts with a responsible alternative" before the cuts are scheduled to take effect.

According to Ayotte's office, Obama last month signed into law a budget that sets top-line funding levels for the next two years. Congress is now working on a catch-all appropriations bill to appropriate the money for the 2014 fiscal year by a Jan. 15 deadline. Congress could restore the money in that bill if it desired, or it could wait and deal with the issue later or not at all.

The authors of the budget deal, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., have already agreed to amend the provision to exempt disabled retirees and survivors of those killed in action, eliminating roughly 10 percent of the $6 billion in savings projected over the next decade. But Ryan has resisted efforts to abandon the pension cut entirely, calling it a "modest" adjustment to a particularly generous program - and therefore a more sensible choice than harder decisions that may lie ahead.

"I stand behind the need for reform," Ryan wrote in a Dec. 22 op-ed in USA Today. Noting that a special commission is due to make recommendations in May to reform the entire military compensation system, Ryan wrote, "That's why this reform does not take effect until the end of 2015 - it gives Congress ample time to consider alternatives."

Many veterans organizations want the COLA restored, but not all veterans.

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."

In an op-ed piece in today's New Hampshire Sunday News, Moffett said he is willing to share in the financial sacrifice to get the nation on a more sound fiscal course.

"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," he wrote.

Moffett, who has qualified for the military retirement, said "we need to change our current structure" by slightly modifying benefits for healthy retirees.

The cut won't be phased in, as has been reported in some quarters, according to Ayotte's office.

Peter Burdett, chairman of the State Veterans Advisory Committee, took issue with Moffett's stance.

"It's another one of the freedoms the military has provided to this country for people to have opinions, and it doesn't happen everywhere," Burdett said. "We need to compensate our voluntary military and take care of them in retirement."

Burdett, a retired Navy commander living in Bow who at age 63 wouldn't be affected by the cut, has appeared with Ayotte to rally for restoration of the money that has been cut.

Material from The Washington Post was used in this report.

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