Tahlequah Daily Press

January 3, 2014

Fed budget provision draws veterans’ ire

By TEDDYE SNELL
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — At the 11th hour, the U.S. Congress finally reached a budget agreement - a compromise, some would say, between political parties.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 was passed by the House Dec. 12, 2013; the Senate on Dec. 18, and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 26.

One provision within the budget is under fire from U.S. veterans. According to a report by the Washington Post, the provision, written by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., reduces pension increases for working-age military retirees by 1 percent. The provision excludes disabled retirees and survivors of those killed in action, and takes effect in 2015.

Tony O’seland is a U.S. Navy veteran, serving from Dec. 25, 1973 to Dec. 25, 1977. He is now a lecturer at Northeastern State University and is outraged at the cuts to cost-of-living adjustments for veterans.

“Yes, the new outrage by Congress will affect me, because we only received a 1.5 percent COLA in spite of what the press was told,” said O’seland. If they take away that 1 percent, it means we are now working at around 15 percent below the standard cost of living.”

Former Oklahoma Sen. Jim Wilson, also a veteran, said he does not receive military retirement and although the provision will not affect him, he believes the government has an obligation to abide by the agreement made with military retirees.

“It appears Congress thinks that doesn’t apply to COLAs,” said Wilson. “In fact, some health care benefits promised veterans and their dependents have been reneged on over the years.”

O’seland confirmed Wilson’s assertion, pointing out he’d lost his disability rating during the Reagan administration.

“I’m only rated a 10 percent [disability] currently, and rumor has it that those of us rated under 50 percent could lose our disabilities completely,” said O’seland. “Along with the call to cut retirement benefits, family allowances, medical benefits and more, it seems that once again the current administration [both parties] are looking to distance themselves from the contractual agreement made when we were drafted or we enlisted. Promises, legal agreements, were made to each service  person, and every year Congress abrogates its responsibility to those who help them hold power by playing Brutus to a supposed Caesar. It was no wonder the Praetorian Guard turned against the Caesars when they were threatened with death and dissolution for their dedication.”

Wilson: Policy consistent with other proposals

According to Wilson, the provision affects veterans who retire from the military before age 62. The military still allows people to retire after 20 years of service with one-half pay. Conceivably, a person can retire as early as age 38. After reaching age 62, the COLA rate is restored retroactively to adjust future benefits, said Wilson. The amount lost is not restored, but the 62-year-old will have the same adjustment as if the budget provision had not reduced the COLA.

“The policy is consistent with other proposals in Congress, which we will probably see after the 2014 election cycle,” said Wilson. “One of those proposals is to reduce Social Security COLAs by using a method cleverly called ‘chained CPI.” It suggests, for instance, that older people eat more chicken than beef; therefore, recipients of Social Security should not be compensated for beef inflation. Of course, the same logic can suggest older people substitute beans for meat.”

Wilson said the purpose of such policies is to reduce entitlement spending.

“Congress would have us believe that reducing entitlement spending is the only solution to budget deficits,” said Wilson. “Whereas the potential ‘chained CPI’ changes to Social Security is abstract enough to fool the recipients, reducing the COLAs fore retired military under 62 years of age seems abrasive. The calculus must be the public won’t sympathize with relatively young people receiving a retirement check in general, or a COLA, or whatever.”

Local veterans believe other areas of budget  could be cut

O’seland believes the federal budget is fraught with programs that could be cut before slashing benefits to those who serve their country.

“In my opinion, programs such as the Osprey VTOL airplane, the engines for the new superfighter aircraft that fit nothing we own but are still being produced because of lobbyist action [could be cut],” said O’seland. “Congressional benefits such as the free food, gymnasiums, postage and pay raises need to be either completely done away with or curtailed in order to meet existing commitments. In real life, if we make legal financial obligations, we meet them, even if it means cutting out a hobby or a pet project.”

Wilson said budget priorities are in the eye of each person in Congress, and are often tied to re-election ambitions.

“It seems reasonable to reduce spending by eliminating defense systems the Pentagon doesn’t want, address the $80 billion in Medicare fraud, eliminate Medicare Advantage, which is merely a gift to insurance companies, or reduce or eliminate subsidies for gas or oil companies,” said Wilson. “Congressional House races cost about $2 million, and Senate races cost about $6 million. That’s $1 million per year each person in Congress must raise. It’s easier to get that money from defense contractors, oil producers and insurance companies than retirees.”

Wilson said it makes sense to look at revenue sources like a small transaction tax on financial activity - the absence of which is one cause of income disparity.

“Wall Street has more political clout than retirees,” he said. “The retirees should be incensed. Instead of feeling despair, they need to convince individuals in Congress that they will lose their jobs if they can’t fix this. It’s that seam fear of losing their jobs that keeps them from voting against other special interests.”

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

To read provisions contained in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, go to tahlequahTDP.com.

tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com