Cutting pension growth; The lazy way out

| January 8, 2014

In the 90s, we all remember how the Clinton Administration “balanced the budget” by slashing military spending. By the end of the decade, soldiers were enduring turnstile deployments to hand out sandwiches around the world. Retirees were forced out of Tricare and into Medicare when they turned 65. There was a training ammo shortfall. All training dollars were spent on the “Meals on Wheels” operations. Troops and their families were on food stamps. What few troops there were left after the manpower cuts. After a decade of turning that around, it seems that we’re headed back in the same direction.

Last month, Congress decided to cut the rate of growth of military pensions. They explained that personnel costs are eating up half of the Defense budget. The Military Officers’ Association of America (MOAA) explains how that is not exactly true;

This may sound alarming, especially in light of the Pentagon stating in April of this year that military personnel costs consumed about a third of the budget.

But the fact is it does consume nearly half the budget if you include all personnel costs — military and civilian personnel, delivery of military health care, and in-kind compensation (DoD schools, commissaries, etcetera).

What’s difficult to find is what goes into in-kind compensation, because these figures and facts are imbedded in several accounts and only DoD knows how it’s defined.

But when analyzing the first three budget items — military personnel (MilPers account), civilian personnel (CivPers account), and defense health program (DHP) — history shows in the chart below that these personnel costs over the past 30 years have gone from a high in 1980 and 1991 of half of the defense budget share to now less than 40 percent.

So, basically, the Pentagon is using personnel costs as an excuse, and not a very valid excuse. And, oh, they’re lying about it all. In Stars & Stripes, the VSOs warn that this is just the beginning for Defense to begin shouldering the political load of cuts;

“This is what happens when you have an unengaged population whose focus starts to shift away,” said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “When times get tough, people say everyone has to sacrifice. But not everyone has been sacrificing for the last 10 years.”

Yeah, see, that’s the problem. The troops shouldered the burden of war, so the rest of the country could head to the mall, now that the economy has made the average American uncomfortable, the troops and the casualties of the war are expected to to shoulder the burden of correcting economical woes.

In the last week, editorial boards at USA Today and the Washington Post have called the veterans’ opposition out of touch, noting that the military’s generous retirement benefits aren’t comparable to any private sector pensions. The Post called it a “dishonor” not to change a military retirement system long overdue for an update.

Yeah, when veterans resist cuts to what we’re owed, it’s dishonorable. What’s dishonorable are the lies that are being told in order to screw the true 1% so the 99% can be more comfortable. I don’t see the Washington Post, USAToday or Congress making any sacrifices, or recommending sacrifice from any other sector of the population, including criminals and illegal aliens who are owed nothing.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno tried to defend the cuts;

Though he would not directly address the cuts to military retirement pay contained in the budget signed in late December, Odierno said the Joint Chiefs of Staff are not looking to cut pay and benefits. Rather, they are trying to reduce rate of growth of pay and benefits.

Odierno said the military had closed the gap in pay disparity and, in some cases, even exceeded it. Now the service leaders need to look at pay and benefits to ensure the package is accurate and sustainable. Otherwise, the growing cost will force the services to reduce end strength.

“We have to look at this as a total package,” he said. But as the Pentagon looks to reduce future cost, it has “to be very careful because we don’t want to undercut the foundation of an all-volunteer Army.”

Yeah, well, Congress should look at the “total package” that they’re dealing with, rather than focus on the Defense Department for their cuts. I’ll remind the reader that sequestration happened because the White House proposed it and implemented it when Congress couldn’t summon the testicular fortitude to cut government across the board.

Thanks to PavePusher and Chief Tango for the links.

Category: Barack Obama/Joe Biden, Big Army, Military issues, Veterans Issues

Comments (19)

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  1. Roger in Republic says:

    It may be that the next time the President wants to further his political agenda by sending troops, he may not have any.

  2. streetsweeper says:

    Why is it, that politicians and flag officers banter the word “sustainable” about like it’s a tennis ball? Bugs the living crap out of me…Of course, we will never see Congresscritters taking a cut in their pay and compensation packages, either.

  3. Curt's Parrot says:

    I think that the YMCA should not be put in charge of the managing the Pentagon’s Pension Plans. Over a 30 year period I have seen what the YMCA can do with the money that gets contributed in to its pension fund. The people who have managed this fund have done a really good job for 30 years. It would really be a crying shame if such talent were to be wasted on less worthy causes. Those who have worked for the YMCA have really contributed an enormous service to the American people. They have earned every penny of their pension.
    Tommorrow I might bring up Teamster pensions or AFL-CIO pensions. But if I were smart and clever enough to write something really educational I would point out how all these pensions, including the military pensions, are tied
    to the Federal Reserve Banking system.

  4. docstew says:

    If they want to slow the rate of growth, they should at least have the decency to grandfather those service members who are over ten years, all current retirees, and future disabled veterans. To do otherwise is to break faith with those who voluntarily put their lives on the line. Break that faith, and people won’t want to volunteer anymore, because who can predict when the next broken promise will happen.

  5. Arby says:

    It’s time to bring out Kipling for a commentary:


    I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
    The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
    The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
    I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
    O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
    But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
    The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

    I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
    They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
    They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
    But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
    But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
    The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
    O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

    Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
    Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
    An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
    Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
    Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
    But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

    We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
    But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
    An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
    Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
    While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
    But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
    There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
    O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

    You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
    We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
    But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
    An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
    An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

  6. Hondo says:

    docstew: broken promises by DoD are not new, amigo. Just ask anyone who retired from the military in the 1960s or early 1970s about that “lifetime medical care” they were promised.

    You gotta RTFP (read the fine print). If it ain’t there, don’t bet on it happening.

    And it’s all subject to change if Congress decides to change the rules.

  7. Hondo says:

    Arby: yep. Screwing the troops/former troops isn’t an exclusively American phenomenon, nor a recent one. That’s from the 1890s.

  8. Ex-PH2 says:

    Oh, for pete’s sake, Hondo, screwing the troops goes back to the Civil War.

    When you live in a day-dreamy kind of world, where everything is just fine and nothing is wrong, you really do not see the need for the military at all. It’s wasted money. It shouldn’t even be considered as a career, because there are SO many other careers that are better….

    But there are none that give you a sense of camraderie or belonging to something worthwhile.

    I don’t see that sense of ‘we were this, once and…’ in the general population now. It’s probably what is behind this disinterest in keeping those promises.

  9. Hondo says:

    Hell, Ex-PH2 – I’d guess military retirees have been getting screwed over since the Roman Army instituted the practice. I’m guessing those guys never got everything they were promised, either.

  10. ANCCPT says:

    I’m not a particularly religious man, but when people ask why I serve, I usually have a three answers.
    Duty: America protected me while I grew up. It’s a safe, beautiful land where you have clean air and water and the freedom to do whatever you want. I felt obligated to serve, and the military was how I did it. A free people stay free by people dedicating themselves to the concept that the whole is more important than the individual.
    Tradition: My family’s service goes back to the Civil War. I will not break that line.
    Judgement: In the end, when we stand at attention in front of whomever judges us on how we live our lives and he looks you in the eyes and says ‘Did you do your duty?’. I want to be able to stand up straight and say ‘Yes, Sir. I did my duty’.

    There will always be people like us; as I know a lot of people here share this view. But we few aren’t enough to hold the line alone, but if we must, we must. There’s a memorial here in Philadelphia, at the Tomb Unknown Soldier from the Revolutionary War that says “Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness’.

    Nil Desperandum, friends. We will endure and prevail.

  11. Ex-PH2 says:

    @9 Yes, remember that Roman soldiers received salt as part of their pay and bennies. The word ‘salary’ comes from the Latin word ‘salaria’, which is derived from ‘sala’, or salt, which was a precious commodity back then. We have that aphorism ‘worth his salt’, based on that practice.

    OH, now there’s a thought: pay the president, veep and all congress critters in salt and see who bails out first.

  12. David says:

    if you paid ’em in the salt they are worth, you couldn’t get flavor on one potato chip

  13. chockblock says:

    Deficit hawks on the right can claim a win and the left can pander to it’s base. That’s why our pay an bennies are up for cuts.

    And then the military will bleed people or another crisis will kick off.

    Same crap as the 90’s just a different toilet.

  14. Jabatam says:

    Why are you guys not speaking up on Capitol Hill?

  15. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    All of you current and future military retirees have it wrong. What you did and what you are doing could have all been avoided. I just learned this when, within the past 30 minutes, I was out and saw a parked car with a bumper sticker that read, “I serve my country. I am a public school teacher.” I kid you not.

  16. AtDrum says:

    This makes it even worse. I learned that I just personally lost $92,000 from my retirement. 12.2% according to the Army Times. The big brass… They get even more????


  17. Curt´s talking dog says:

    Why would you be kidding. Teachers do serve their country especially when they work in high crime areas. YMCA employees serve their ornry country. Suicide hotline workers serve their country. Life guards serve their country. Child care givers serve their country. College football players do serve their country although some people might not be able to figure out how. Air traffic controlers serve their country. Mail carriers serve their country.
    People who do not serve their country but get serviced by the country include, accoutants, advertising executives, bankers, the clergy, Monsanto Rxecutives, newspaper executives, pharmasutical executives, stock brokers, tobacco companies, TV executives among others.
    Lawyers are a special case.
    Philosophers are an extraordinary case.

  18. Don H says:

    @16: I was going to post a link to the same article, but you beat me to it. And to top it off, not only do they get a raise when they retire, but if they are affected by the COLA cut, because of their age at retirement it will most likely only be for one or two years. No wonder they’re strangely quiet on this issue. As opposed to, say, cutting the F-35, which is built using Chinese parts . . .

  19. Arby says:

    @16 and @18, that article is extremely misleading. Look at footnote #1 on any basic mil-pay chart. It has been there for decades. Here is the most current iteration: “Basic pay for an O-7 to O-10 is limited by Level II of the Executive Schedule which is $14,975.10. Basic pay for O-6 and below is limited by Level V of the Executive Schedule which is $12,141.60.” That means they are capped out at $179,701per year are, not the salaries quoted in the article. That means most Generals are losing 12 to 50 thousand dollars a year for the pleasure of serving Uncle Sam.

    The article is also unclear on how their retirement salaries are calculated. Maybe, the cap in the Executive Schedule is removed to calculated their retirement pay. I don’t know. But, that sounds fair to me given how their pay was capped for so many years.