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February 19. 2014 3:31PM

COLA talk

Sen. Ayotte concerned about cuts in COLA for new service members


U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is joined by leaders from New Hampshire’s veterans and military service organizations on Tuesday at the Merrimack VFW to discuss recent efforts in Washington to restore military retirees’ pension benefits. (Kimberly Houghton Photo)

MERRIMACK — While praising Congress for approving legislation last week that restores military retiree benefits, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte says she is still worried about new military members.

“What we did last week doesn’t fix everything. In fact, I remain concerned that service members who have joined since Jan. 1 are still facing the same cuts to their cost of living increases,” Ayotte, R-N.H., said Tuesday while standing in front of a small group of veterans at Merrimack VFW Post 8641.

A one percent reduction in cost of living benefits for select military retirees under the age of 62 was approved late last year as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act.

However, following significant attention from Ayotte and other political leaders, Congress last week approved legislation that restores military retirement benefits for current military retirees, and protects service members who joined the military before Jan. 1.

The bill was signed into law on Saturday.

Ayotte described the recent action as a very important step toward correcting a “terrible cut” with an estimated $6.3 billion in savings. Still, she says more should be done.

Although a commission is expected to come forward with recommendations on whether changes should be made to the military retiree system, Ayotte said she is hopeful that any future changes are prospective.

“No one has studied whether this will hurt our retention levels for those who are joining the military now,” said Ayotte, stressing only those who have retired or are about to retire are grandfathered.

Following the initial cost of living reduction for military retirees, Ayotte introduced a bill to pay for the full repeal of the COLA reduction. Since then, she introduced more than 10 pieces of legislation trying to fix the issue.

“We need to make sure that we follow through and keep our promises to those who serve our country,” she said. ” … this should not be the first place that we go to get our fiscal house in order.”

Last week’s victory in Congress was a result of the men and women in uniform bringing forward their concerns, according to Ayotte.

Col. H. Allen Chadwick of the New Hampshire Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America applauded Ayotte and Congress for supporting military retirees.

However, he warned that the commission assigned to study this matter must take into consideration how retiree benefits may directly affect recruit efforts and military retention.

Those who enroll after the start of 2014 are not protected, said Paul Chevalier of the VFW National Legislative Committee. Congress seems to have forgotten that the military is currently a volunteer force, he added.

The cut to COLA increases was a mistake, an injustice and a slap in the face, according to Chevalier, who said Ayotte was the catalyst behind correcting the error.

“This is a very important issue that I still think needs to be addressed,” said Ayotte, adding she still had pending legislation she hopes may be beneficial.

khoughton@newsote.com


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