The omnibus bill voted on in the House last night shows Congresses callous disregard for veterans. The bill did not fix the Cost Of Living Rollback which was tucked in the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2013 that penalizes retired veterans below the age of 62. One caveat: the omnibus bill does restore the full COLA for medically retired vets. This is good but does not undo any of the damage the COLA cuts will have on veterans after January 1, 2016, which is the date the law takes effect.
Veterans, active duty and many in the public pressed Congress loudly to repeal the COLA cut for all veteran retirees. Hundreds of thousands of letters, emails, tweets, etc... pleading Congress to change the law fell on deaf ears.
Congress has proven over the years they do not work for you. He who has the most money gets a say and gets to change the laws. That is how Congress works. They want your vote but when it comes down to it, if you are not showing them a wad of cash, forget it. Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI) made the case on why Congress shafted military pensioners on Hew Hewitt radio show Jan 15: only 17% of active duty make it to retirement. Translation: it is OK to take money away from this small group and deliver their earned benefits to Pentagon hardware programs.
The irony of it is many in Congress vowed to fix the screw up once the BBA was announced in Dec 2013 and would do it in the next legislation. But when it came time to show their colors the House voted 359-67 in favor of passing the omnibus bill without fully repealing the COLA rollback. The vote tally clearly shows Congress is not interested in restoring the break in faith with veterans.
You can tell Congress has not learned much in the rush to push through laws without studying their potential impact. There is a long history of messed up policies that proved too damaging only to have Congress roll them back later. When I was active duty I saw several cases of medical malingering by other Servicemembers. What is medical malingering you ask? It is when someone who is actually healthy feigns serious illness in order their case be entered in their medical records. Once the medical fraud (because that is what it is) is entered into their record, they can claim the fraud, I mean medical condition on their Veterans Administration (VA) medical review record. The VA then adjudicates the findings, and if it is found to be valid, they award a disability rating. The higher the disability rating the lower the federal tax payment the individual will have to pay to Uncle Sam.
I hope I am wrong but what Congress is encouraging is more medical malingering down the road with this partial COLA rollback. This is just wrong policy and encourages bad behavior.
Bad Behaviors Resulting From Bad Legislation
You are probably thinking there is no way a twist in an incentive for active duty personnel will change behaviors for the bad. Think again.
We are now being told four star generals will be paid more in retirement than when they were on active duty and, get ready.... they are exempt from the COLA rollback which affects the rest of the military. Congress changed the law back in 2007 in order to retain top talent to execute the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a result of Congresses shortsightedness, we have four star generals now proclaiming publicly, without evidence, the military retirement and compensation system is swamping their budgets. All publicly available documents prove that is not the case. Military compensation and retirement budgets have remained relatively steady over the past ten years as shown by Office of Budget Management documents. On hardware, generals see things differently. As you might expect, the generals are mum on the $411 billion cost over-runs on numerous weapon systems.
What the generals fully understand is Congress is trimming the Pentagon budget and one painless way for them (not for us!) to do it is to cut back on payments into the Military Retirement Trust Fund and to get Congress to earmark the savings from retirement accounts back into hardware. Veterans cringe at what Congress is cooking up down the pipe.
You see, because the generals are not affected by changes to the recent COLA cuts so now they can mislead, in bad faith, the public into believing military retirement costs are out of control. If they were affected by the cut, it is a safe bet they be would stating things a bit differently. My guess is the generals are including everything on their personnel expense ledger. For example, if a soldier gets a shoeshine for a discount, I am guessing the savings is considered an expense.
Senates Turn To Show Faith
Since Congress has recently sprung bills for a vote with short notice it is unlikely change will come for the military pensioners. The millionaire Congressmen who are managing the budget process know there is not much time for their colleagues to read the massive bills -- and they also know there is not much chance of change in the Senate because that will delay the implementation and possible forcing another continuing resolution. Lord help us.