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Veterans voice concerns on Murray-Ryan budget


The proposal would cut costs but at the expense of local veteran pensions

by: CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - Veterans nationwide are concerned about the Murray-Ryan budget's affect on their pensions.

The good news is that the federal government has passed a two-year fiscal budget, for 2014-15 that, hopefully, solves many of the issues raised by the recent sequester.

The bad news is that it may result in cuts to military veteran's pensions.

In mid-December, the U.S. Senate passed, by a vote of 67-33, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, as negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

The budget, signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 26, calls for an increase in discretionary domestic spending to more than $1 trillion a year and pays for it via increased user fees and spending cuts. The cuts include a controversial 1-percent reduction in the cost of living increase (COLA) to pension benefits for retired veterans under the age of 62.

In a Dec. 19 press release, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) announced that he has added his name, as an original co-sponsor, to a bill that seeks to eliminate the pension cut that is scheduled to take effect in 2015.

"I supported the budget agreement because it reduces the deficit and keeps the government open without raising taxes. But the agreement contained pension changes for certain military retirees that I would not have supported as a standalone plan. Although the pension changes don't take effect for two years, the time to fix this is now," said Walden.

Reaction to the pension cuts has been negative, and swift.

The We The People website has posted a petition to repeal the budget because of the proposed cut, calling it "an inexcusable breach of contract with the military men and women who have served this country valiantly in two wars."

The petition, with 22,189 signers, as of Dec. 30, continues, "One of the primary motivators for military members to spend an entire career in the military is the promise of a retirement benefit that cannot be made worthless by inflation. The Ryan/Murray proposal breaks that promise."

Veterans' dissatisfaction with the budget is also seen in an American Legion poll that found that 58 percent of their members felt the cuts were "the first step in a process to reduce the value of military service that runs deeper than the budget crisis."

The Veterans of Foreign Wars is asking its almost 2 million members to contact their representatives in Congress to demand the rejection of a proposal that they feel "would severely penalize working age military retirees." Ê

"We know the federal government needs to curb its spending, balance its budget, and put an end to the sequester," said VFW National Commander William A. Thien, "but this proposal needs to be buried."

Prineville resident James Taylor, Staff Sgt. US Army, (retired), agreed.

"Although the reduction will impact me directly, I understand why they are trying to cut it," he said, "but, there are other places they can cut instead. Tax breaks for large corporations should be capped before the military."

Walden's proposed amendment seeks to replace the pension cuts with savings obtained by closing a loophole in filings for child tax credit benefits.

Although federal law prevents illegal immigrants from collecting such benefits, the current child tax credit provision does not require a Social Security number, making it possible for them to make the claim.

In his proposed amendment, Walden references a Department of Treasury report that states that $4.2 billion in tax credits were paid out fraudulently in 2010. Walden claims that simply modifying the tax credit to require a Social Security number would save approximately $7 billion over 10 years, more than enough savings to replace the cuts to military pensions.

Robert Sayers, Commander, American Legion Crook County, Post 29, wants loopholes like this to be fixed.

"We have immigrants that join the service in order to obtain citizenship, which is a great way to do so" he said. "They don't come to this country to live off of government handouts like others do."

Sayers' concern is for the medically retired veterans, who are unable to work, and live completely on their pension.

"We have a 47 percent unemployment rate for these veterans and I fear that this cut will drive them to other social programs like welfare," he said. "Many of them have too much pride to do so and this may cause more foreclosures and homelessness."

According to Walden's Communication Director, Andrew Malcom, the proposed bill completely replaces any changes to the military pension cuts for all veterans.

"I do not have a timeline for when the House may consider the proposal to replace the changes to military retiree pensions," said Malcom, "however, replacing the recent changes has strong support on both sides of the aisle."

Taylor hopes for a quick resolution, and that common sense will prevail when it comes to veterans.

"There is a lot of foreign aid that goes to countries that don't like us, but will take our money," he said. "It seems like the government goes after the easiest to hurt and who won't cry about it."