Military COLA bill ok’d by Congress doesn’t go far enough for some

The Senate on Wednesday gave final congressional approval to a bill that would repeal a pension cut for younger military retirees, exempting troops who joined the armed forces after the start of 2014.

The measure, which is headed to President Obama’s desk, ensures savings for the government down the road and partially appeases critics of the controversial benefit reduction. But it still remains inadequate according to veterans groups and lawmakers who wanted to fully eliminate the policy.

(AP/Susan Walsh)
(AP/Susan Walsh)

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America on Wednesday applauded the bill’s passage but said the group would continue to fight for a full repeal of the cut. “Congress never should have put veterans on the chopping block to begin with,” Paul Rieckhoff, the organization’s CEO and founder, said in a statement.

American Legion national commander Daniel Dellinger also expressed mixed feelings about the legislation, calling it “commendable” but saying it still “places the responsibility for correcting a financial catastrophe — that is, the unruly national debt — almost solely on our service members.”

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the bill “is a step forward but it doesn’t go as far as it should.” He urged his fellow lawmakers to pass the sweeping Veterans Affairs measure he proposed last month that would end the pension cut entirely while expanding certain benefits such as dental and medical care, education and caretaker stipends for former troops.

The benefit reduction, established under the budget deal Congress and Obama approved in December, would limit annual cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees under the age of 62 to 1 percentage point below inflation starting in December 2015, saving an estimated $7 billion over 10 years.

The repeal legislation approved on Wednesday would eliminate the cut for troops who joined the service before Jan. 1, 2012, replacing the savings with an extension of the sequestration policy that trimmed Medicare-spending levels.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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