As we're looking towards retirement in the next few years, we're also facing college expenses for two boys, the purchase of our first real home, and the desire to start a small business so that we can escape the rat race of government employment. Unfortunately, we don't think our military retirement will allow us to go 'home' - the Bay Area of Northern California costs more than we think we will be able to afford and we're looking at our options. So when Senator Diane Feinstein tried to justify these cuts as logical for 'working age' retirees, I had to laugh. Add commissary closures and projected cuts to health care (yikes!), I'm not sure where my family will best settle. Welcome to the uncertainties of military life, right?This is a recent post of mine on Facebook. It was an answer to a question about financial security for military families and was joined by a litany of responses:
We've been moving every 9ish months for a few years. While the navy pays for the move, it still always sets us behind every time with deposits and incidentals and then the move-out fees we always seem to have.
We have slowly accrued more and more debt, especially with the military credit unions being liberal lenders, to the point that though we know he will make more money as a civilian contractor, we aren't sure we'll ever have the financial stability for him to get out. So we feel very stuck.
Right - unemployed or underemployed spouses have a huge lifetime impact on a family's nest egg. Not only the lost income during working years, but the lost Social Security payments later as well. Another reason military families depend more heavily on retirement than you might think.
Moving multiple times has made it to where I have 15 years experience in the medical field but still making a very slim salary. Now with having 2 children my pennies that I earn wont even cover day care costs so I will now have a huge gap in employment. I have yet to work where i would have any retirement plan due to I moved every few years. My employers would never pay for my continuing education credits for my certification because "I would not be there long enough for them to get their money back." We still own a house in another state because we would lose our shirts if we sold it for 40K less than it is worth.
Military spouses often must give up their careers and contributing income because of military PCS. Another thing to consider is that when my husband was deployed (10 times)... The ups and downs of parenthood fall to one. Another reason many spouses feel pressure to give up their career and stay home.
I was lucky enough to find a job with a retirement plan when we lived in Virginia, but it required 5 years to become vested. We PCS'ed after 4 years... Then they changed the rules for non vested retirements in that system so they would no longer accrue interest. That notice didn't make it to me due to our many moves until 7 more years had past with my paltry $5000 dollars sitting in an account paying no interest all that time.
We also sold low due to a PCS out of California, losing $30,000 in that deal. Each PCS we did meant at least a year of me not being employed, and not able to draw unemployment either. It also meant starting over at the bottom of the career ladder each time, restarting the wait until a job would match retirement savings, and paying for new work certifications in our new state. I know my civilian brother and sister have 4 times more than what I've been able to save for retirement, and forget saving for our 2 kids to go to college... That's a dream we've never been able to afford on my husband's enlisted salary.
I have spent hundreds of dollars sending care packages of basic necessities ~ toiletries, socks, etc. ~ to my Marine in Afghanistan. Just this morning I read in his latest message, "I feel so bad, because if you weren't sending me all these packages, we'd probably have your student loans paid off by now." Maybe, maybe not, but it's worth it to me to ensure that his basic needs are being met.
But reality is that most people have families and that means taking care of them. I have my MSW, along with two other college degrees and have not used them in over 5 years because of relocation, licensing costs and testing in 3 different states and cost of childcare verses income. I love being a stay at home mom but our income is restricted now to my husband's retirement pay (he retired in August) and a second job that he had to get to sustain our family.
When I moved to be with my husband, I had to take a huge pay cut in my new job. In three years of employment and with two raises, I never got back to the pay I had before moving. Now I am a stay-at-home ready to go back to work, but with a pcs in 2014, I will not be going back into the work force for another year. My hard earned degree from a well respected women's college is sadly just gathering dust.These stories and more come at a time when Congress has decided to cut military retiree pensions in order to save money. Although many Representatives and Senators are reconsidering the cuts and will be offering up several different versions of bills to reinstate or partially reinstate the cuts, it's hard to tell what might happen. But even if the benefit is completely reinstated this time around, the truth is that the Pentagon will go after retirement pay again. Our elected officials are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The defense budget has to be trimmed and Congress refuses to cut many of the programs that the Pentagon wants gone because they hit a little too close to home.
Military families are beginning to talk about how these cuts are going to hurt and how, in fact, they hurt not only those currently seeking to retire but those who will retire in the future. The military retiree pension helps keep quality folks serving for 20+ years and it does that in large part because it helps make up for the inability of a spouse to work and save money during the active duty member's career. A military pension is part of the glue that holds the entire system together.
Unfortunately, there aren't enough military families to make enough noise to make a difference (remember, only 1% serve). We have a small group of organizations that lobby in our name but the key word is small. They are nothing compared to the lobbying arm of defense contractors. While our voices our few, our message is strong and it is worth sharing via Facebook and Twitter and your personal blog. When you share our stories, there is a greater chance that other civilians will hear as well, civilians that have never had the opportunity to meet any of us. And if just some of you will speak out in our support, we have a much better chance of keeping the pension system in place.
So what can you do?
Share and like military pension stories on Facebook and Twitter. Recommends on DailyKos are wonderful, but the changes are happening outside our small space. Those likes and tweets make waves that we don't even yet begin to comprehend.
Call your Senators and your Representative and tell them to fix the cuts and to look for different ways to pay for 12+ years of war. The war has already been fought by these veterans - they shouldn't have to pay for it with their pensions as well.
Let the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission here your thoughts on the issue. You can make your public comment here. If you live in the San Antonio Area, you can attend public hearings on Monday, January 6 and Tuesday, January 7.
If you hear of a military family story you want more widely distributed, please let me know. If they aren't willing to write it, I can put pen to paper for them.
If progressives can get a hold of this issue, it might be possible to change the messaging that is already creeping into the 2014 election.