Legion staff attended and provided written testimony to the June 28 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on COLA cuts.

Consensus among committee: COLA cuts were wrong

After a budget passed in December that included cutting cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for military retirees, members of Congress vowed to undo that portion of the legislation before it goes into effect in 2015. One of the first steps in that process occurred Jan. 28 during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing featuring representatives from the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and veterans service organizations.

The American Legion, which participated in a press conference following the hearing, provided written testimony for the committee, again restating its steadfast opposition to the COLA cuts. “The American Legion recognizes, as does this committee, that without highly qualified, dedicated men and women, even the most sophisticated weaponry will not provide the deterrent force necessary for this nation to remain at peace,” the testimony stated. “We also understand that preserving an attractive retirement system for the active and reserve components is critical to maintaining an effective all-volunteer force. 

“Further, we cannot understand why Congress would seek to offset the effects of sequestration by targeting less than one quarter of 1 percent of the American population – that same one quarter of 1 percent who chose to dedicate nearly a quarter of a century of their lives to the rigors of military service which involved: moving their families every three to five 5 years, enduring multiple deployments, living on an income that was far less than their civilian peers, enduring physical and emotional stressors unlike any in the civilian sector, and swearing an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies – without any question or mental reservation – even if it meant, their life.”

Committee members expressed their opposition to the COLA cuts. “I believe the COLA reduction is wrong because it targets a single group – military retirees – to help address the budget problems of the federal government as a whole,” said Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich. “It is unfair to single out military retirees in a federal deficit-reduction effort.”

Levin’s fellow committee members agreed. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said one of the main reasons he didn’t vote for the budget deal was because of the COLA cuts. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said it was clear the COLA cuts were wrong, and since it was so clear, there was no reason to wait to correct the problem.

And Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said the COLA issue was one where both parties could agree. “What was astounding to me is once this became public, that people from both sides of the aisle said this was wrong before we even voted on it,” she said.

Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. James Winnefeld both agreed that current retirees and those about to leave the military should be exempt from the COLA caps and asked that Congress grandfather those immediately impacted by the cuts if the legislation isn’t revoked.

Fox also asked for patience from Congress until the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission – established by 2013 National Defense Authorization Act – presents its final report in February 2015.

Following the hearing, Legion reps attended a press conference that included Sen. Lindsey Graham, Ayotte and Wicker, where Ayotte revealed an amendment she planned on introducing Tuesday that would provide funding for – among other areas – revoking the COLA cuts.

The amendment – which will be added to flood insurance legislation that is currently pending in the Senate – would require that filers claiming the Additional Child Tax Credit on their income tax return include a valid Social Security Number for each child they are claiming. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that this change would save approximately $20 billion over 10 years.

“We are stopping some massive fraud on our tax code,” Ayotte said. “It seems to me that we could put that money to good use for our men and women in uniform to fix this military retiree COLA cut.”

Louis Celli, the Legion’s National Legislative Division director, praised Ayotte, Graham and Wicker for their support on the COLA issue. “We’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve received from the senators you see here,” Celli said.