Veterans Groups Speak Out Against Pension Cuts

Veterans groups are upset about the cut to military pensions in the proposed budget deal. They see it as a broken promise and a sign that veterans are considered politically expendable.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. The budget deal-making that's made its way through Congress has been hailed as a sign of bipartisan cooperation - extremely rare in Washington, but not everyone is happy. Veterans group have been protesting a cut to military pensions, a key part of the deal that saved $6 billion.

We'll hear in a moment why the Pentagon wants the cut. But first, NPR's Quil Lawrence spoke to veterans' organizations about why they say the deal breaks faith with those who serve.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The number can seem small inside a trillion-dollar spending bill. It's a 1 percent cut to the cost-of-living increase for military pensions. But a retired master sergeant, for example, might lose more than $80,000 over his or her lifetime.

PAUL RIECKHOFF: It may not be a lot of money to a millionaire serving in Congress, but it's a lot of money to our veterans.

LAWRENCE: Paul Rieckhoff, with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, says politicians who say they support the troops have to show it.

RIECKHOFF: Now, the political finger-pointing has begun. You know, the Republicans will blame the Democrats; the Democrats will blame the Republicans. But the bottom line is, they both signed off on this. You know, people are being wounded and killed in Afghanistan right now, and this is the wrong message to send to them.

LAWRENCE: Pressure from vets already pushed a change to an early version of the deal. The current version doesn't hit disabled vets or family of fallen troops. So it targets about 1 in 5 veterans, people who served at least 20 years. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America, says these are the wrong people to single out after a decade of war.

NORB RYAN: They're the most experienced non-commissioned officers and officers that we've ever had in our armed forces. But they're at the 10-year point. They're exhausted; their families are exhausted. And they're wondering, is it worth it? What's pulling me to that 20-year point?

LAWRENCE: Twenty years - what's always done it, says Ryan, beyond patriotism, is the promise of excellent health and benefits - now in question. Ryan's worried once the budget is passed, it'll be nearly impossible to dial back the cuts. And politicians may have already done the election math, says Joe Grassey(ph) of the American Legion.

JOE GRASSEY: It's only 1 percent or less of the American people who served in the military. Politicians believe that they could survive any type of turbulence because it's a very small group. You know, I hate to be cynical, but maybe that's the situation.

LAWRENCE: Grassey says this may be a test to see if politicians can get away with crossing veterans. And if it works this time, who knows what veterans' benefit could be cut next?

Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

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