Veterans Forum How many cuts can the military withstand?

Every day, we hear about Congress and the budget battle and the proposals to balance the budget. This is a major concern for all U.S. citizens and affects each of us emotionally and politically. The Pentagon’s budget is getting cut daily to save money.

Draw down military troop strength to less than 450,000 through sequestration by 2017, weapons programs cut, medical care cuts, Veterans Administration benefit cuts and retirement cuts on the backs of our veterans.

Reform proposals submitted to Congress on March 6 have far-reaching effects on the current retirement system.

The current system

A little background on the current retirement system. If you serve 20 years in the U.S. military, you are guaranteed a percentage, usually 50 percent, of the last 2 years’ base pay in the highest rank achieved. The percentage goes up for every year served, max out at 2-year intervals, 22 years, 24 years, etc., until the 30-year mark, never 100 percent.

If you worked for a company for 20 years and had a 401k, you’d be able to draw on that account a monthly income, and monies remaining would continue to draw interest. Many companies offer some form of retirement account, or you are able to start your own 401K. After a few years, you are vested in your 401k and are able to take it where you please or draw it all out, with penalties assessed on the amount drawn.

The current military system is a 20-year “cliff-vesting” fixed-income pension. Much different than a 401k.

What might be ahead

The proposals submitted to Congress on March 6 created immediate response on the Military Times’ Facebook page concerning the reforms. A former Marine sergeant disagreed and commented “You work as many hours as they need you to work, on their schedule, whenever they need you, for as many days as they need you. To even start thinking about cutting retirement benefits, it’s just immoral to me.”

He also had comments about Congress. He suggested on the Marine Corps Times’ Facebook page that “any lawmakers who might be inclined to go along with the Pentagon plan should consider cutting their own compensation first.” He also stated, “Somebody who puts 20 to 30 years deserves a full retirement and has done much more than any congressman or senator will ever do for this country.”

An airman commenting on the Air Force Times, Facebook page wrote. “I don’t regret my decision to join or to stay at all, I love my country and the Air Force.”

The airman also wrote, “But I really wish our leaders, civilian and military alike, would stop calling our retirement plans overly generous as compared to what one might get in the civilian world. What we and our families sacrifice every day far outstrips any amount they might pay us in retirement, and that retirement check has to go toward supporting both my wife and myself, since she gave up the opportunity to get one (retirement) to follow me around.”

These are just a few of the comments that hit the Military Times newspapers, and Facebook is full as well.

Hope for positive change

There may be some good things that may come from the proposal if Congress is able to compromise and take what has been proposed as good. One thing is the possibility of starting a 401k type of program for those enlisting which will vest them after serving at least 6 years. This could be cash out benefit for those enlistees that do not wish to make the military a career.

Another thing the proposal may cause is a potential enlistee to think about, is the lack of a retirement at a lesser rate. A reduction in retired pay percentage is also in the works and would give a lesser percentage upon retirement with an increase at a “later true” retirement age that the Congress would determine and make law.

Another possibility that could occur with 401k style of vestment or retirement would be the stock market. The stability of our country depends on the economic state, and as of late it has been questionable. That is only my opinion.

What are we fighting for?

There are many out there who say that it was the decision of the veteran to enlist. That is true, but it was also your decision not to serve. If the draft were still in effect, would you have fled to another country to avoid serving?

We citizens of the United States of America demand security from the time we walk out the door in the morning until we return to the safety of our homes in the evening.

We demand our security by the local police and sheriff departments as well as the nation’s military.

Veterans have sacrificed enough for the protections the citizen demands. How much more do we have to sacrifice?

Robert Valencia is a retired Army Sergeant First Class. Member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion. He can be reached at 970-560-1891. Listen to Veterans Forum the last Friday of the month at 8:30am on KSJD Radio FM 90.5/91.5