Ryan-Murray Budget Deal: Reaching Compromise on the Backs of Military Retirees

by Linda Szugyi

Last week, I mentioned how tough it is to opine on something that impacts me in a personal way.  In that post, the topic was the war in Afghanistan.

This week, it is the budget war on the Hill.


How do I objectively assess the Ryan-Murray budget deal, when it stands to cost thousands of dollars a year for my husband and all others who plan to retire or have already retired from the military at a younger age than 62?

The cut sounds inconsequential at first blush:  a 1% cut in Cost of Living Adjustment (“COLA”) until you reach the age of 62.  But if you retire at age 42, then you have the cumulative effect of 20 years of inflation–dollar value shrinkage–before you get the 1% adjustment back.  In other words, that wee 1% cut ends up a 20% loss in value for the person who retires at age 42.

Let’s talk more about that young retiree, shall we?

First of all, retiring at a younger age isn’t just an employee perk.  It’s necessary for a functional military.  We all know that the military is in the business of fighting, and fighting is a young man’s job.  Still, it probably looks like a pretty sweet deal, getting this full military pension at such a young age, and getting to add it to whatever second career you choose post-military.

That’s because it is a pretty sweet deal.

That’s why people agree to it.  They agree to risk their lives.  They agree to uproot their family anywhere from 4 to 12 times (we are on our 7th move in 15 years).  They agree to lose the ability to invest in real estate with the sweat equity that requires years of living in the same four walls. They agree to be worn down by hard labor, dangerous work environments, regular sleep deprivation, and battle stress.

They agree to give up all the earning growth potential of entrepreneurship or corporate ladder-climbing.  (That goes for their spouses, too.  The spouse who can maintain a lucrative career while being dragged to the four corners of the world is a rare one indeed.)

There’s another important aspect to consider:  you can’t just put in two weeks notice and quit.  We call quitting an Unauthorized Absence (“UA”) in the Navy, and it’s a crime under the UCMJ.  In order to function successfully in a military career, you have to understand that you don’t own your own life.  You are the military’s indentured servant.

That’s why it takes a pretty sweet deal to lure enough motivated individuals into an all-volunteer military for twenty or more of their very best years.

It’s a major expense for the U.S. government.  Lifetime pensions that can start as young as age 38 will in most cases be paid out for a very long time.  With healthcare costs soaring, it’s no surprise that Tricare for Life is the most expensive part of all.

This ballooning cost of military personnel might be getting out of hand.  It may need reforming.  Congress already created a commission to study this very topic, and its recommendations are due this coming May.

Instead of waiting for the recommendations of their own commission and crafting non-retroactive reform, however, the House chose to renege on a promise.  The House chose to retroactively shrink the benefits that untold numbers of service members relied on when they weighed their options at re-enlistment and decided to continue their military career.

Paul Ryan can take his rugged, good-looking fiscal conservatism and stuff it in a sock.  The federal government spends $11 billion dollars a day, and I bet he can find his $7 billion of savings somewhere else.  As you might have noticed, I’ve thrown objectivity to the wind for this post.  I am emphatically stating that this budget deal blows monkey chunks.

At least you can use my subjective view in order to make an objective assessment of your own.  The fact is, moves like this will impact the career decisions of every service member.  And they won’t be holding their breath for an Armed Forces panel to review this retirement cut before it takes effect.

So Congress, do you want an all-volunteer military that is capable of the sustained action that your foreign policies have required?  Or are you going to reinstitute the draft?  Or what?

Update:  (DTG)  Usually the lead post of the day is reserved for me but Linda as a Military wife asked special permission for the blog to lead with it and given this deal directly impacts her I decided to go with it.


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