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Opinion

Laying off troops close to retirement isn't keeping faith

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Opinion,Op-Eds,The Pentagon,Army,National Security,Defense Spending

Earlier in August, the Army warned 550 majors they would be laid off.

Some were on combat deployments. Imagine a sweat-drenched, bloodstained officer arriving back on base from a two-day mission to find a pink slip on his bed. So much for taking care of our own.

This follows the Army giving the boot to more than 1,100 captains — again, some of whom were on combat deployments.

These officers are not bad apples, rather they are the victims of rudderless policy and feckless prioritization in the White House and Congress. Political bickering and gamesmanship are part of the legislative process, but needlessly sacrificing careers of combat veterans is intolerable. As a glaring example of incompetent leadership and government mismanagement, the Treasury noted that in 2010 illegal immigrants claimed $4.2 billion in child tax credits.

If that loophole were closed, it would more than fund the careers of those officers on the cutting block.

The Army appears to be cutting costs by targeting officers who will soon be eligible for retirement. Army legal personnel guidelines provide protections for long-serving officers. In fact, these protections go into effect after 14 years of service and require officers to be continued in service. This longstanding policy was set in the 1980s by the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, which states that an officer “on attaining permanent O-4 grade [major], has a career expectation of 20 years of service.”

It is clear that Congress well understood that bean-counting civilian bureaucrats in the Defense Department may engage in such dastardly cost-saving by targeting those long-serving officers who are close to retirement. In addition to keeping faith with our troops, the policy of retaining long-serving personnel is critical to projecting a strong national security posture. As numerous military leaders have testified before Congress, cutting personnel levels will directly interfere with waging successful military campaigns.

Meanwhile, another Army officer, Lt. Col. T.G. Taylor, wants to retire but the Army is making him stay another 20 months to “pay back” for transferring his GI Bill education benefits to his daughter. If he had used those benefits himself, he could retire right now. The Army could let Taylor retire, take that money saved and discharge one less captain or major, but we doubt such logic would ever prevail.

If the Pentagon has so poorly managed its books that it has to let go of thousands of troops now so it can pay for the mandated but unwanted continued service of others, the least we can do is give these laid-off officers the retirement they earned to date. For example, in 2012’s National Defense Authorization Act, Congress reinstituted temporary early retirement authority to provide prorated retirement for years served in lieu of an abrupt discharge. It is a fraction of full retirement but arguably a more measured response than simply a discharge certificate, a week of transition training, and a one-way airplane ticket home.

Our troops have made monumental sacrifices since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They have deployed at rates and for lengths not seen since the hollowed-out military of the late 1970s, suffered the physical and invisible wounds of war, and lost comrades on the battlefield. They are not bureaucrats sitting in air-conditioned rooms; they are in a world ravaged by war and are thus uniquely qualified.

As Bruce Springsteen so aptly sang, “Wherever this flag is flown, we take care of our own.” President Obama and Congress, are you listening?

Bob Carey is executive director of the National Defense Committee, an Alexandria, Va., nonprofit that works to protect the individual rights of service members. Josh Flynn-Brown is a legal fellow with the group. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.
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