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Vets fear losing benefits

POSTED: December 6, 2010 11:01 a.m.

Local veterans have voiced concern over recent proposed changes to TRICARE and military retirement pay recommended by two federal debt panels in an attempt to reduce the government’s unwieldy deficit.

"The retirees right now are catching hell from everything," said Dennis Fitzgerald, commander of East Liberty County American Legion Post 321.

Fitzgerald said many politicians don’t seem to be considering the sacrifices veterans have made. "We’re trying to get clarification about what they really want to do. It seems like the military always catches (it) when it comes to cutting costs," he said.

"We’re always following everything the government is doing pertaining to the veterans," said Garlon Penland, commander of Disabled American Veterans chapter 46. "We deal with veterans every day. They’re trying to get the benefits they deserve. We try to stay on top of what the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) and the (federal) government does.

"We look at [proposed changes] from both perspectives," Penland continued. "The ones who are now out [of the service] and the ones who are coming out."

One panel, dubbed the "Blue Ribbon" panel, is chaired by former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, who served as White House Chief of Staff from 1997–98. The second bipartisan panel is known as the Debt Reduction Task Force.

The Blue Ribbon panel recommends freezing basic pay for military members and federal civilian employees for three years, according to military.com. The panel also proposes doing away with the current 20-year retirement system. Under the panel’s plan, service members would not begin drawing retirement pay until age 60. Military retirees would also be required to pay higher co-pays and premiums for TRICARE, if the panel’s recommendations are implemented.

"Veterans already pay co-payments on TRICARE," Fitzgerald said. "If Congress were to use the same medical program as the military, it would open their eyes. No longer is medical care ‘free of charge.’"

The Debt Reduction Task Force also proposes changing the military retirement system. Its plan would delay retirement pay until age 60 for those who served 10-19 years and age 57 for those who served 20 or more years, according to military.com. In addition, the retired pay formula would be based on an average of the highest five-years of a service member’s pay, not the highest three-year average, if the task force’s proposal is initiated, the military website reported.

Penland said he has heard rumblings the Army Reserve would also not draw retirement until age 60, under the new recommendations.

Fitzgerald opposes the panels’ proposals to overhaul the military retirement pay system.

"It’s completely stupid," Fitzgerald said. "If you put in 20 or more years on a job, why should you have to wait for it? That money’s yours."

Fitzgerald maintains large private corporations like Chrysler offer employees pensions as soon as they retire and said the military should be no different.

"Say someone goes in [the military] at age 18, puts in 20 years and gets out at age 38," he said. "That individual must wait another 20 years to get that money. It will hinder a lot of people from making the military a career."

Fitzgerald added the proposed change to retirement pay will hurt the military’s "mid-management" areas.

"Taking away these benefits will negatively impact troop retention," he said. "We’re asking our (American Legion) members to call their senators and congressmen. The president seems to want to cut everything but he doesn’t seem to want to give anything. If you don’t have a viable military, you’re not going to have a viable government."

 

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