U.S. Marine Corps photo

Legion: Don't cut military retirement benefits

American Legion National Commander Jimmie Foster is criticizing the recommendations of two debt reduction commissions that would decrease military retirement benefits. One panel, chaired by former Sen. Pete Domenici and Clinton administration Budget Director Alice Rivlin, calls for changing the formula to calculate military retirement pay and delaying payments until the eligible veterans reach age 57. Another panel, chaired by former Sen. Alan Simpson and retired Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, recommends that military retirement checks be delayed until age 60.

“There they go again. Every time Washington wakes up with a deficit hangover after decades of spending binges, those who study the serious problems of our national debt can’t resist the easy but unfair route of trying to balance the budget on the backs of veterans,” Foster said. “It is unfair, and if these ridiculous proposals are passed into law, it will hurt America’s ability to defend itself from our enemies.

“Tell it to the Marines. I want these commissions to look a 22-year-old Marine in the eye and say that if you retire at age 40, after 20 years of service and three, four or even more tours of being shot at in Afghanistan, that you still have not done enough to receive your retirement. I want these commissions to tell the soldiers in Iraq that the benefits they are receiving are too much. America has a huge debt all right. And it is owed to these men and women who protect our freedoms every day. It is a debt that must be repaid.”

The panels have also recommended cuts to military weapons systems that could hurt American efforts to fight the global war on terrorism. The Simpson/Bowles Commission suggested slashing $100 billion from the defense budget in 2015, closing one-third of the U.S. bases overseas and freezing noncombat military pay. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that cutting even 10 percent or $55 billion from his budget would be “catastrophic” for the military.

“Cutting the military’s budget while it is engaged in two wars is unconscionable,” Foster said. “When you send American troops to war, you must pay the cost of those wars. Freezing pay and cutting benefits, whether in combat or in garrison, will also make young people think twice before volunteering to serve their country. The United States would not exist if not for the sacrifices of the men and women who have served in our military throughout our history. It is only because of their sacrifice, that bean counters have the freedom to argue about how to balance the budget to begin with.”