Why Lawrence Korb's "no big deal" is a big deal to retirees

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Why Lawrence Korb's "no big deal" is a big deal to retirees

The Senate yesterday moved one step further in passing the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act which contains the provision to cut the COLA amounts by 1 percent annually.  At this point some fighting about it remains, but it appears almost certain to take effect.  As I wrote  yesterday, I believe it is unjust for the simple reason that it violates general contact principles, and I believe it betrays a trust.

One person viewing it differently is Lawrence J. Korb of the left-wing Center for American ProgressNow, before anyone goes making this a partisan issue, it doesn’t break down as nicely as you would want to make such a point.  The left-wing position of CAP is really no different than that of the right-wing Weekly Standard.  The authors of this deal are 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and progressive Washington Sen. Patty Murray.  It passed the House by large margins with both parties supporting it.

Nonetheless, Dr. Korb has a piece out titled “Here’s Why the Proposed Military Retiree Benefit Cuts Are No Big Deal.”  It’s certainly no big deal to Dr. Korb who receives a salary of $215,599 (from the CAP Form 990) and is not retired military.  But it’s significantly more of a problem to those who will be affected by it, who don’t have salaries north of the six-figure line.  Dr. Korb lays out a series of reasons it is “no big deal” each of which I would like to address.

First, the provision does not break faith with the vast majority of men and women in uniform, since most of them will not retire. According to DOD’s Office of the Actuary, responsible for overseeing retiree pensions, only 15 to 17 percent of the enlisted soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who served in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will serve long enough to retire. The current retirement system provides no retirement benefits at all to servicemembers who serve less than 20 years.

This is a complete strawman argument that is meant to further the CAP position that retirements should be set up more like 401Ks than our current structure.  But even leaving that aside, how is the odiousness of something diminished by the fact that it impacts a smaller number of people more than a larger number of people?  The DoD has said this will save $6 billion over the next 10 years.  Having it affect fewer people just means it impacts them more.  It’s like saying that 25 people were killed in Helsinki last night, but they were all redheads and most people in that city do not have red hair.  That’s slight reassurance to everyone who does have the red locks.

Second, the reduction applies only to working-age retirees – that is, military retirees who have not yet reached the age of 62. Since the vast majority of people who retire from the military in their 40s and 50s take other jobs, often using skills they have gained or developed in the military, their military retirement pay is not their sole source of income.

This is another statement made with really no basis in evidence.  I’ve seen no evidence that suggests that 45-year-old veterans just entering the workforce do so at a level of parity with those who have worked since they left their parents homes.  In other words, while someone who works for GE for the past 25 years might be middle to upper level management, that doesn’t mean that a former Infantry First Sergeant going to work at GE is going to be making the same level of pay.  And consider that a civilian who works at a private business usually does so in one locale, or might relocate if there is the potential to advance.  This would be a decision by that employee and his/her spouse.  But military personnel are given no such option.  While Dr. Korb has been able to live in DC for the past 25 years, and his wife presumably has been able to do the same, if I had stayed in to retirement (which would have been this year) my wife would have been unable to stay employed in the same place.  When a servicemember is moved, which happens roughly every three years, the spouse has to largely begin anew at each place as well, absent some other circumstance that might happen irregularly.  So, when the servicemember DOES retire, it is unlikely that his spouse will have the same earning potential as the spouse of a civilian employee.

 Further, a sedentary position that doesn’t necessitate numerous moves is obviously easier financially.  Someone gainfully employed in the civilian sector for 20 years has probably made great strides toward purchasing a house, and building equity.  For servicemembers the vagaries of being sent around the country make it significantly more difficult.  Ditto such things as children having a stable learning environment, relationship with a place of worship, and building a coterie of friends. 

Third, the reduction does not affect those who suffered physical and mental wounds during their service. Disability compensation is paid through the Veterans’ Administration and will not be affected by this provision.

This is actually two arguments masquerading as one.  And neither is particularly accurate.  First off, one would have expected Dr. Korb to know that there hasn’t been a “Veterans’ Administration” since 1989 when Ronald Reagan made it the Cabinet level “Department of Veterans Affairs.”  There is a Veterans Benefits Administration and a Veterans Health Administration, but neither of those really has bearing here anyway.  Further, the opening statement isn’t completely accurate anyway, as made clear by this Marine Corps Times article today:

Military personnel who are medically retired — those with combat or service-related injuries so severe they were offered full military retirement pay and benefits — would see their retired pay cut as a result of the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said Tuesday.

[…]  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.”

Lastly, Dr. Korb brings in disability compensation for no discernible reason except to apparently point out another awesome benefit we get.  But disability compensation has never been a part of this discussion, and in fact such compensation comes from mandatory funds, not discretionary ones.  Further, such compensation is to attempt to “make whole” those who suffered injuries.  It has nothing do with military retirement.

Fourth, the alleged 20 percent lifetime reduction to working-age retiree pay applies only to those who separate at exactly the 20-year mark. Many men and women serve past the 20 year mark, putting them correspondingly closer to age 62, when their retirement pay is adjusted back up to the full amount. Consequently, the impact on them will be much less than the 20 percent number touted by MOAA.

The reality is that those folks who do retire will bear the complete, 100 percent burden for the $6 billion anticipated savings.  You can look at those numbers any way you like, but it suffers the same infirmity that I noted above, you are disproportionately hitting ONLY those folks who gave their country the better part of their adult lives, forswearing other more lucrative opportunities, and doing so after they have already fulfilled, or substantially fulfilled, their obligations.  Would it somehow make it better if it was only 17 percent?  That full $6 billion figure is coming from the people who should LEAST be expected to pay it.   We’ve been repeatedly promised by everyone in the government from the Pentagon to the halls of Congress to the White House that “we will not balance the budget on the backs of military retirees.”  And 100 percent of the people being asked to make up the $6 billion shortfall are those who were promised it wouldn’t be their burden.

Fifth, and most importantly, MOAA ignores all of the other benefits that have been given to military retirees over the past decade that have enhanced the value of their retirements. These generous benefits more than make up for this potential cut to working-age retiree pay.

 Again, this is completely irrelevant.  That’s like giving a Christmas bonus to an employee for five years, and then cutting his pay with the explanation that “well, in the past you got those Christmas bonuses, so you should be fine with receiving less money.”  Among the litany of “generous benefits” that Dr. Korb lists is “low-cost access to health insurance via TRICARE” which he states “far cheaper than comparable private insurance plans.”  This might be relevant if it was an apples to apples comparison.  But anyone who has served, or been to the VA, or been around veterans knows that the host of maladies we suffer from are different from those of society at large.  One can’t plausibly argue that the risk of losing a limb is the same for an Infantryman as a pastry chef.  Likewise, the wear and tear on a body that hauls an 80 pound ruck over the Hindu Kush is notably dissimilar to that which generally plagues a high school guidance counselor.

Further, the benefits of TRICARE for all military retirees have been greatly exaggerated, as Dr. Korb should well know.  TRICARE Prime is only practicable if you happen to live close to a military base, and because reimbursement rates for TRICARE are tied to Medicare rates, more and more doctors are dropping TRICARE.

Everyone agrees that the current DOD budget is unsustainable in the long term.  And those fears have been raised for at least the last 10 years, because I was working on Capitol Hill before going to Afghanistan, and I heard them then.   And it might be very well true that something dramatic has to be done in order to preserve our readiness and force structure.  But despite what Dr. Korb thinks about this being not a “big deal,” asking the servicemembers who have already performed their service to bear the brunt of this lack of prior planning is prima facia evidence of breaking the faith with these men and women who gave their country their all for 20 years and more.


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Why doesnt congress take a pay cut from their 0wn salary pay and retirement pay!!!!!!!!

Mr. KROP aka MR. Rob our veterans of what is theirs and they rightfully earned , however your salary could be reduced along with all the other leaches on the Hill Conress , Senators all who were to serve our Countyr and then go back to their Civilian Lives. If you all cared so much about our country and not your self preservation Why should you all be on a different health plan then the Americans who are forced to take this affordable health care act, if it so great have you signed up? then we could cut the deficit fronm provideing you health care as well as no retirement , and cut your salaries.

In my opinion They dont care about the veterans,Look what happen in Benghazi,They didn,t care then and they dont care now,As long as they can travel all over on the tax payers dime.All i can say i didn,t vote for Obama or clinton.I dont know how long it will take for people to wake up.All they do up on the hill is look after theirselfs and make sure they get their big checks and the Vets,get the shaft.

So what are we going to about it.

Mike Mandell and Loren Foster are nothing more than liberal traitors!!! You appaerently did not serve more than one term and most likely in a protected office stateside. For those of us who believed the lies of recruiters, commanders, and politicians weare not selfish!! We put up with more than you can imagine and you obviously did not. For some of us under the age of 62 our retirement IS the only income we have. Like others have posted here, once we retired from the military we tried to start another career in the civilin world. Unless we were a senior officer or top E-9 us lower ranking people had to start at a lower level. No consideration for our experience, training, and formal education. Once again it is the military that must bare the brunt of the failings of Washington and their supporters like you. NO OTHER GROUP IS BEING TOLD THAT THEIR BENEFITS ARE BEING CUT!!!!! So Comrades Mandell and Foster what are you giving up to "help fix" the budget? I bet the same as the elected officials who passed this budget, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!!! Are they taking a pay cut or pay freeze? HELL NO!!!! You and the treasonous politicians need to wake up or move to a Communist country that is willing to accept you!!!

It is only just and fitting that the Vets who served for lousy pay, bad conditions, terror and the likelihood of not having everything work quite as well as it would have had they not put their body through it should bear the costs of keeping the stock prices for Defense Contractors in the Fortune 500 healthy. If you don't enhance revenue, none of the the freaking budget is freaking sustainable. So, my first advice to any asking this old retired First Sergeant about staying until retirement would be simple -- do it because you love the Army and you love your country and you love your comrades. Don't expect the bastards to be grateful after you're not on active duty anymore. If they don't need you at the moment, don't expect them to want you at all. Murray agreeing to hurt Vets is out of character, but Ryan is an Ayn Rand Catholic (Contradiction in terms, of course) and this totally is in line with the Ayn Rand approach to responsibility for the common good.


I can see fat in the budget that can be trimmed to apply to where it is needed; and that fat is on the bellies of the impertinent, disrespectful, lazy people who call themselves "leaders" and take their income from our tax dollars. Congress was in session for 156 days this year. Senate for 142. Military personnel typically work more than 220 days per year in peacetime; 24/7/365 when deployed.
Lawmakers had better tread lightly. Any so-called lawmaker who writes crap like this as law and then votes it in should be voted out. Let's make it our business to get that done.

Why is it we always seem to find money that goes to poor people and our disable Vets,retired Vets who made this freedom we love possible but we can keep given money to retired congress or non reelected presidents >? who needs the money most and who has put their lives on the line 24/7. I would like to see all our Congress and Senators be treated like all other government employees you only get paid when your are working and not continue pay after a 4 or 6 year time of service. Than you would see the added money to our budget.. We seem to give so much money to outer countries just to buy friendship. we have poor people lying in the who are home less why is it that this is allowed to happen ? these are American Vets, and families down on their luck but our Gov. will give that help to countries . Our law makers and our Supreme justices need to be looking out for the citizens that have made it possible for their time in office ,we the people will make changes in Washington but mot by the people who are so blind who can not see those people who were voted for and did nothing but screwed up our country. I love my country I just disrespect those who are out for them selves not for those who voted for them.I Have given 28 yrs of my life to serve in the military and I did it for the love of my country . A wonder President once said ask what can I do for my country, not what your county can do for you .if only our law makers would follow that we would not be in the situation we are in now .

As a vet i think that our people sitting in the white house better open there eyes and remember who has kept this countr safe. All the veterans that have sered thier county and all who are fighting now for our safe being. If anybody that should have a pay cut it should be every singe person in the white house and any buddie in the white house system. Everyone of the veterans gave there time and some gave their lives for you unapesitive federal burocrats. You are stepping on the wrong peples feet.

Go ahead Congress collect your increases. Go on vacation. and hope that the Military will save your a__. Come on people DO NOT VOTE FOR AN INCOMBENT. Oh and thanks to all you veterans in congress for your support.

I have been expecting these cuts. I retired from the Army with 29 years and 10% disability. I believe we all must share in the pain of reducing the debt our country has incurred. All means congressmen and women as well. Their health care and retirement benefits should also be on the table. Congress should be subject to every law they vote on that affects American citizens. They are not above the laws they create. We voted them into office. We should have the ability to say whether they deserve a merit increase for good legislation or decrease for poor legislation. The way I see it Congress, as a whole, has not deserved an increase in a long time. They have lost the ability to compromise and legislate on issues that affect the American people. They are real good at kicking the can down the road and blaming the debt crisis on someone else. You cannot keep on printing money and pushing the eventual pain to the next generation. We all learned how to balance our home budgets. You cannot keep writing checks just because you still have checks with total disregard of your balance. I am ready and willing to do my part, but Congress needs to share in the pain they are willing to legislate on other American citizens. My two cents.

It never ceases to amaze me that Congress has the audacity to continue to squeeze the military, veterans, and retirees for every penny they can while continuing to throw good money after bad into failed social welfare programs that often reward people for making poor decisions. I know there are many who truly need our help, but there are many more who are just too lazy to better themselves or feel they are "owed" something. Additionally, the government readily admits there are tens of billions of dollars flushed away in fraud, waste, and abuse in just about every program it manages. Millions are given to people that live off the dole not because they need it, but rather because they know they can "game the system." Last year a billion dollars was spent given free cell phones to just about anyone who "qualified" for some type of government handout. Give me a break. If they can sleep at night knowing able bodied Americans are taking advantage of the taxpayer and are living off the dole, surely they can see their way to give military retirees and veterans their full cost of living increases. Give me one day as King of the world, and I could find tens of billions of dollars to not only save COLA but to save our deficit ridden budget from creating further long term economic disaster. I for one am sickened by the far left liberal policies that are driving our country into social and economic ruin. May God help us.

Just so you know: I am a vet, but not military retired, not affected by this proposal. My son is currently active duty, hopefully going for 20. I agree we need to cut our national debt; how is the question. We are a beggar nation at present, selling our t-bonds to China so we can fund various federal programs without raising taxes back home. Since congress wants to pass this act, let's include congressional retirements and those on social security retirement (me and the wife). This would be a good start; for reducing the debt or starting a big fight, I don't know. One thing I think we should do is work through our major/minor vet organizations to encourage lobbying for a return to the draft since enough young people will soon get so pissed at our federal government that they will not embrace, nor join, a volunteer force. When we next want to deploy forces and no one answers the phone, maybe congress will notice. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I back the Legion,DAV , all Vets & anyone that helps them . I served 7 years . And like everyone else we get screwed. The VA runs a sleazy benefit program . At 1st I was impressed , until I learned they only treat you half ass when it comes to health care. To me a Vet is just that A Vet . Each is treated as they choose. You can have dental , you can't cause you don't have that benefit . the list is endless. You are not treated as an equal .Your a 1st ,2nd ,3rd class piece of shit. VA medical means it is for Veterans , so why do we only get half or poor treatment if they so choose. As a Vet , you should be entitled to all treatment to help keep you healthy. It no longer matters to me now , as I now use a private treatment Doctor to fix the mistakes & blunders they screwed up. I believe in training , But not half ass , One Doctor ,retired from the VA ,told me , We mess up , just give them more & heavier drugs. They'll never know . Stop cutting the benefits , pays , programs , education . Give 100% real treatment to all. Never mind how long or much time they have. Never mind voting them out , recall them now. And cut their pay , Their insurance , Make sure it starts at the top. OUR COMMANDER in Chief ,John F. Kennedy , cut his own pay to 0 . But he did his best to back all Vets. Yea i'm pissed .

This is a purge of the military backbone (e.g.. NCO Corps). The Beltway is unnerved and "threatened" by a Spartan or Samurai political class, and they want to cut the retention programs to purge the military ranks of the experienced war fighters. The volunteer military is a threat to the civilian politicians. These various vet groups should back the expansion of the Individual Mandate (Obamacare) to include a new mandatory defined benefit program for the corporate sector. Korb and his minions should be forced to pay a new payroll tax that would accrue to the individual accounts on top of Social Security taxes. In other words, these defined benefit plans would become a mandatory saving program paid by corporate payroll taxes. The military retirement is the gold standard, and the Individual Mandate for new payroll taxes in the civilian sector would match the corporate contributions into these individual defined benefit plans. Forget the 401(k), and mandate the corporate sectors must pay more for their private armies of civilian employees.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.