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Civilian Board Decides Troops Don’t Deserve Retirement

Civilian Board Decides Troops Don’t Deserve Retirement

Originally posted at Hard Corps Wife:

I came across this article at Stars and Stripes via CJ Grisham, who is understandably angry — as am I. One would think that after putting up with 20 years of arguably the hardest job one could take on that veterans would have damn well earned their pensions. But oh no, say the civilians, who I’m sure understand fully all of the hardships of the job. We need to take the “lucrative” pensions away.

The military retirement system is unsustainable and in dire need of repair, according to an influential Pentagon advisory board.

The Defense Business Board — tasked by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to find ways to reduce the DOD budget — says annual Treasury Department payments into the system will balloon from $47.7 billion this year to $59.3 billion by 2020.

The 25-member group of civilian business leaders suggests that the Defense Department look at changing the current system, even hinting at raising the number of years troops must serve before being eligible for retirement pay.

The current system “encourages our military to leave at 20 years when they are most productive and experienced, and then pays them and their families and their survivors for another 40 years,” committee chairman Arnold Punaro told board members at their quarterly meeting late last month.

First of all, you don’t get a full pension at 20 years. You get a half pension. So really, if you’re only looking for that quick, easy retirement money, you would actually need to serve another ten years to get a full pension. Oh, wait a second, you don’t get full pension! The most you can get is 75% of your base pay. My bad!

Meanwhile, the answer — according to “experts” — is to get rid of the unsustainable retirement benefits and just give troops more benefits when they enlist! Well, let me tell you something, we have plenty of benefits in the military. We don’t need more benefits. (And no, that doesn’t mean start cutting military benefits. Those benefits are there to make up for the terrible pay and the hardships of the job.) That’s why troops deserve their pensions after 20 years. And I can tell you, they aren’t lucrative by any means My husband is an enlisted Marine looking to make a career out of it. He’s considering transitioning to a commissioned officer and even with an officer’s salary, a half pension after 20 years wouldn’t be much.

So here’s a few questions for this board of “civilian business leaders”, who probably can’t even comprehend the stresses of military life. Have they ever had to endure months, even years, away from their families while they are putting themselves in danger day after day? Have they ever had to know what it is like, every night, to think that the next day might be your last? Have they ever had to uproot their families every few years and move across the country — or even the world? No, they probably haven’t. I doubt any of them can comprehend the stresses of military life. Even when you’re at home, you work long hours. You have to stand duty so some nights you won’t come home. There’s constant training so sometimes, even when you aren’t deployed, you’re gone for weeks or months at a time. I can’t stand hearing civilians whine about being away from their families for a week or two for a business trip. They have no idea how lucky they have it. They have no idea what it’s like to deploy to a war zone and leave your family behind.

Take my husband, for example. He’s deployed to Iraq twice. He’s currently deployed to Afghanistan. He had a tough time getting ready for this deployment because I am currently pregnant. He worried every day — and probably still worries — about leaving his wife a widow and his future child fatherless. He’s got to go to Afghanistan to fight an enemy just desperate to kill him and every other one of the Marines he’s deployed with. They’ve got to worry about snipers, IEDs, mortars, RPGs, and God knows what else. On top of that, the living conditions there are awful. They don’t even have showers! Literally — they have to bathe with baby wipes. Laundry consists of laundry soap and a dirty bucket. There’s no internet access and phone calls are rare. Considering my husband wants to make a career out of the Marine Corps, it’s unlikely that this will be his last deployment, either.

And on the family end? You worry every day that you don’t hear from them that something’s happened to them. You worry about how you’re going to pay the bills by yourself. You worry about your kids, who cry at night wanting to know where Daddy is, because they’re too young to understand. You worry about finding a new job when you’re forced to quit because you’ve got to move across the country… again. You worry about your kids adjusting to a new school and whether or not they’ll make new friends.

Military life is not easy. We earn that retirement.

And for my husband — and thousands of other service members — that half pension is the light at the end of the tunnel. Why go through such hell, such stress, if that is taken away? Take away retirement for troops, and you’ll be seeing considerably less career service members. What would be the point? Only the most motivated troops would stay in without the promise of retirement. Some people might say that’s a good thing, but there’s a problem — our troops are already overworked as it is. We have basically the same group of soldiers and Marines deploying to the Middle East over and over and over again. We need to be growing the ranks, not shrinking them. Getting rid of retirement would result in a lot more troops doing the four-years-and-I’m-done deal.

If the government is really worried about where we’ll get the money to pay for it, maybe we could cut some money from the billions we waste in pointless social programs. Hey, we pay Planned Parenthood millions a year — over $300 million a year, actually. That money certainly could go to better use.

Or here’s a better idea. Why don’t we cut the bloated congressional pension plans? Our troops certainly deserve better retirement plans than they do. After all, our troops actually earn it. What do politicians do to earn such gold-plated retirement plans? Yet somehow, I doubt that these civilian business leaders have such a problem with Congress, though.

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  • Will says:

    The one area where this administration wants to cut spending and it’s veterans’ retirement benefits??? Disgusting!

  • Calvin Ballew says:

    Where were these “civilians” when I was in Beruit in 83 and my wife had a miscarriage all alone in a trailer in Verona NC. Or when my son was finally born and I was on a float. How about the way we loose our rations pay when we deploy, I know its just for us, not dependents. Who doesnt get used to living on the extra couple of hundred a month…oh yeah and the Christmas morning I spent on guard duty in Korea, with snow up to my knees. I could go on but why? They will never understand. Damn them all. Semper Fi

  • TonyG says:

    When I was in the Australian Army in the late 80s there used to be a program where, after 20 years, you could get a very low cost housing loan if you were a serviceman – It was discontinued because the civilians working in the defense department complained that it was unfair they couldn’t get the program.

    Rather than expand it they cut the program – Seems like these poeple are the same the world over.

    Best wishes to your family – Hope everyone stays safe.

  • bill-tb says:

    Veterans or produce nothing civil service union workers, tough choice. I say we fully pay our vets, and what ever is left we halve and give that to the civil servants. Emphasis on public service … Not lifetime employee.

  • John F says:

    I’ve served 21 years…so much for just doing the 5 I owed for my education and getting out…so I obviously have a bias. I understand that military pensions aren’t cheap. Keep in mind though at least for officers (I’m not sure the wording for enlisted folks) it’s not even a pension. It’s a stipend. In exchange for said stipend we agree to be subject to recall to active service for life. I have buddies who thought they were done at 20 years and got recalled and deployed. (Which is why I plan to get too fat to fight upon retirement.)

    The main reason I see for twenty-ish year retirement is the job itself. At 43 (and after 105 impacts with the earth after falling out of “perfectly good” airplanes, and running something in the neighborhood of 20,000 miles on assorted pavement, and living in “sub optimal” conditions, etc) I’m pushing the outer limits of being useful in combat. Maybe if I were an intel or commo geek it would be different, but as a combat arms officer I’ve got about two or three years left of physically being able to lead from the front. If the government suddenly decides that 30 years is a more reasonable period to earn a pension (which remember is actually a stipend) there will be a lot more 50 something old fogies clogging up the ranks, who can no longer physically lead from the front (no matter how much they want to) and preventing the 30 somethings from getting promoted.

    I’m willing to debate stuff like cost of living adjustments. Maybe the answer is they don’t kick in until we hit 60, rather than starting from jump street. What shouldn’t be up for debate is the idea of moving the 20 year mark for eligibility.

  • Steve says:

    I retired as an E-8 after 20 years and 8 months on active duty, with 4 years in the active Reserve (which didn’t count). To say that I have a full pension is a joke. I get 51% of my base pay (as it was in 1996). To say I could live on that is also a joke. So I haven’t really retired, just changed careers.

    And I still have my uniforms hanging in my closet. It’s a requirement, since I’m subjec to recall to active duty, as Frank mentions.

  • First, if you work in the federal government at a desk job, you get better than that: 90% salary after 30 years.

    Now, a lot of people, who have a standard college education and a standard 40-hour/week job, simply do not understand why people get paid more than they do. If you’re a doctor, part of what you’re getting paid for is the first fifteen years of your adult life, in which you worked your butt off and didn’t get anything in return. So the salary that you earn from age 35 to age 65 has to compensate for what you didn’t earn, and the debt you took on, from ages 22 to 35.

    Laywers? Dentists? Suicide rates are through the roof; you’re partly being compensated to be miserable.

    Coal miners? Construction workers? The money you make beyond what a barista makes is compensation for the danger and the physical toll it takes on your body.

    Likewise, in the military, you’re being paid to uproot your family every 3.5 years. You’re being paid for your wife’s lost salary. You’re being paid to be away from home. You’re being paid because your chances of death are high. You’re being paid because your quality of life is worse than that of a construction worker, doctor, or lawyer.

    My question to these people who snark about what anyone else earns is simple: assuming you’re capable of doing that job (which is a big “If” in many cases!), how much do you want to be paid to take on the quality of life changes?

  • FML says:

    Federal pensions of 90% at 30 years? Where? Not in the USA … You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    I’m a veteran, a former Marine, and the whole tenor of this debate is noxious. The hatred of civilians that oozes out of this blog and many posts here is vile. Nice to see such hatred of the people you’re being paid to protect.

    I suspect the military pension system needs dire reform. I have no problem giving generous pensions to actual combat veterans – I am one, btw, and I remain in the reserves – but I think it’s absurd that military members who sit on their behinds in CONUS get the same pension as those who actually endure war. Anyone who’s ever served knows that the percentage of people in uniform that sees real danger – as opposed to mere discomfort – is pretty small.

    Let’s focus the pension benefits on the right people. Ditto on the Federal civilian side. There are plenty of civilians who see a lot of nastiness, especially in law enforcement, and they deserve every penny, maybe more than they get.

    The people you should be cheesed at are the staggering number of military retirees who have high-paying, do-almost-nothing GS jobs all over DoD. These clowns are double-dipping and raping the taxpayer, it’s ridiculous. If you’re making $110,000/pa as a GS-14 or -15, how about you accept a reduction in your military pension?

    A modest proposal …

  • John F says:

    To compare military and other federal pensions is a dangerous thing, they’re apples and oranges. I don’t think 20 years was a number picked out of the air. As I explained (eloquently I thought, and without oosing hatred for civilians…I love civilians, my wife, kids and parents for instance are strangely enough all civilians)there are certain jobs that people just get to old to do. Cop, Fireman, and Combat Arms Soldier come to mind. We give pensions to those folks after twenty years, because no one really wants to call 911 and have a truck load of 65 year old firemen show up at the house. Much like no one wants to see a 55 year old rifle company commander, or a 65 year old tank battalion commander trying to figure out where to put his walker in the bustle rack.

    Some jobs such as officer strength manager, budget analyst, and administrative assistant (all GS civilian positions in my brigade, GS 9, GS 11, and GS 7 respectively) are not all that physically demanding, and probably don’t require people to retire at 20 years.

    I believe that there is need for reform for military pensions (though they are but a tiny drop in the federal entitlement bucket). For instance I would support no cost of living increases until age 60 or 65. (Those under the Redux System already have that in place…those of us old enough to fall under High-3 don’t.)

    I would not move the 20 year retirement point for Combat Arms Soldiers, for reasons mentioned above, nor would I require active duty retirees to wait until they’re 65 to collect their pension. Perhaps there is room for debate on pension based on military occupational specialty. Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Combat Engineers can retire at 20 years with 50%, Combat Support and Combat Service Support can retire at 20 years with 40% or 25 years at 50%. The problem with that is it will create a firestorm of “have vs have not” debates within the military.

    The pension is a very powerful retention tool. In the federal civilian work force, lets face it, there aren’t a whole lot of folks deciding to leave before retirement eligibility. In the military there are, something to the tune of 85% never make it to retirement. To the Sergeant First Class or Major with 15 years of service faced with his third or fourth deployment, the thought of 50% of his pay for life at 20 years is a strong reason to re-enlist.

    I’m not sure that I would favor enhanced retirement for combat veterans (or reduced retirement for non combat veterans). Right now it’s a moot point. Every Active Duty Soldier in my battalion has at least one deployment, most have two, many have three or four. (I command a very top heavy, tri-component (Active, Guard and Reserve), cadre training battalion, so I don’t have any Soldiers below E5.) I don’t know any active duty peer of mine (LTC with 21 years of service) who doesn’t have at least one, many of us are preparing for our third or fourth (my fourth, to Afghanistan this time, starts next spring).

    My concern is not that my benifits such as they are, are under review. We’re going to have to cut the federal budget, and everything is on the table. I just hope that in the rush to save money on defense, our leadership doesn’t rush into a military pension reform that adversly effects combat readiness by discouraging younger Soldiers from staying in, and encouraging senior Soldiers to stay past their useful age.

  • John F says:

    Incidently…there are many other areas in which military benefits can be reduced to save money. For instance the Post 9-11 GI Bill. In the rush to do something to show appreciation for Post 9-11 Vets, Congress rushed this thing through. Any Soldier who serves on Active Duty or is mobilized to Title X Status since 9-11 is eligible…and can transfer the benefits to a spouse or children. Great idea, but why everyone?

    For instance the Army has already paid for my BS (at West Point), an MMAS (Masters of Military Arts and Sciences, at the Command and General Staff College) and an MA (at Webster University). Not to mention, as an O5 over 21 I make a pretty decent living. Why should the Army pay to send me to even more schooling (what, am I going to get a PhD next?) when I retire?

    How about a Reservist who mobilizes for two years (voluntarily) and never leaves CONUS?

    If we tightened up the eligibility for the Post 9-11 GI Bill, we could save a whole lot of money, and most of us who suddenly find ourselves ineligible aren’t likely to get too upset about it.

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