PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla., December 23, 2013 — America’s veterans, those of us who were willing to give that last full measure of devotion, have been betrayed by the United States Congress, the Senate and the president. They have left us behind.
Members of Congress and the president are home with their loved ones after telling current military retirees, medically retired service-members, and future retirees that they must sacrifice their benefits as part of a lousy budget deal.
Today I received an email from my dear friend Dr. Dale Comstock, retired U.S. Army Paratrooper, Ranger and Special Forces soldier who served in combat operations from Grenada to Iraq to Afghanistan.
Dale emailed me from Hong Kong. “Now with the specter of increased Tricare costs and the loss of COLA, and the impact on disability (I am legitimately a 30% disabled vet) looming around the corner, I am wondering how far can we sink before we can’t get back to the surface? I think it is shameful that the military and retirees should burden more of the responsibility for budget cuts while illegal immigrants and other entitlement programs remain unscathed.
“Our government and the American people who tolerate this kind of behavior are, in my mind, traitors to this nation. In fact, I don’t think they are better than the terrorists that we must kill on their behalf. The only difference is that terrorists kill with weapons and the others kill with lies, deceit, and stealing money from those that work the hardest and sacrifice the most for all of us.”
Military retirees will have their cost of living adjustment (COLA) cut by one percent until they reach the age of 62 — in total a $6 billion cut.
According to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, this cut is no big deal because “they are still of working age.”
What a disrespectful, disingenuous statement.
Senate Budget Committee Chairperson Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., says “they made a mistake in including medically retired individuals.” But obviously neither she nor Ryan read their own legislation.
The ensuing outrage has resulted in a promise to correct this back-handed slap to those willing to give the “last full measure of devotion” to this country — once the House and the Senate return from Christmas break.
But why wasn’t it corrected on the spot? This should have never passed in the House. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions brought up an amendment that would have replaced the cuts to military retiree benefits. His amendment would have closed tax loopholes and eliminated credits used by illegal immigrant filers, but Senate Democrats, led by Harry Reid, blocked his amendment.
Six billion dollars in disrespect to our military retirees is preferable to offending illegal immigrants? Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn released his annual “Government Waste Book” that detailed $33 billion in wasteful spending — apparently more important than honoring those who honorably serve.
There are those who would say, “what difference at this point in time does it make?” It makes a huge difference financially, because retirees will lose anywhere from $77,000 to $120,000 — but it makes a greater difference in the breach of trust between those who have and are serving in uniform, and their civilian managers. Sorry, I cannot bring myself to call them leaders.
It makes a difference when you consider 35-40 years ago, some 70 percent of those serving in Congress had served in the military. It makes a difference that for the first time in almost 77 years, in the 2012 presidential election, neither the sitting president, vice president or nominees had ever served in the military.
Once upon a time, this great nation turned to those who had served in uniform for greater positions of leadership in this republic. There was something about honoring an oath — a sacred oath that has no statute of limitations. Now politics trumps leadership.
Imagine if military retirees advocated for Members on Capitol Hill to have their retirement scheme changed? A military retiree must serve a minimum of 20 years to qualify for a pension; mine as a retired Lieutenant Colonel was approximately 55 percent of my base pay. But members of congress only have to serve five years in order to receive 70-75 percent of their base pay in retirement, which after their passing still goes to the surviving spouse.
Twenty years versus five years?
I remember the Christmas holidays I spent away from my family while deployed. When you are celebrating Christmas in a combat zone or deployment, your buddies become your family and you share the absence with each other to find strength.
I’m often asked, “Do you miss being in Congress?” I can honestly say no.
I would rather be deployed with my band of brothers, honorable men and women, suffering hardships, privation, and danger, together, away from our families. I’d take that over walking the halls of Congress among liars and deceitful individuals who know nothing of honor and day.
As most of us make final preparations for a Christmas celebration with loved ones, we must never forget the best among us, those American men and women who stand on freedom’s ramparts to secure our blessings and posterity, are away from their families.
Merry Christmas to all, but especially to my band of brothers.
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