Opinion

Military retirement changes must be fair to service members

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Defense Spending,Military Budget,Pensions

Drastic changes are coming to military retirement.

The standard "all or nothing" pensions earned after serving in the military for a minimum of 20 years will soon be a thing of the past. The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission established by Congress has been researching proposals that will revamp the current system. If changes are going to happen, we must ensure they are done responsibly and smartly with the best interest of the service member in mind.

One aspect of reform must remain clear: Those who are currently serving or retired must be guaranteed to be grandfathered in with the current retirement and benefit system. No more broken promises.

Regardless of reassurances, skepticism remains high within the military community surrounding any talk of retirement reform. Broken promises and personnel mismanagement are all too common within the military these days. Earlier this year we saw military cost-of-living adjustments get slashed as a mere "oversight" in the Ryan-Murray budget deal.

While the COLA cuts to the military were eventually reinstated, they never should have happened in the first place. Our troops should never be forced to be in a position where they have to doubt whether or not the government they work for will go back on their word, specifically because the Pentagon has been unable to manage their budget. Regrettably, because of past experiences with the government shutdown, COLA cuts, and sequestration, doubt is often all that's left. If it happened once, it can happen again.

But the reality remains that current Department of Defense personnel costs are unsustainable and will soon surpass operational costs. The status quo simply isn’t working financially. This contentious issue must be addressed, not only to ensure fiscal responsibility on behalf of the Pentagon, but also to ensure we recruit the best people and retain them.

The commission won't release its final recommendations to the president until February 2015, and it's unlikely any changes will occur before then.

Whatever plan is chosen must obtain a responsible fiscal balance between maintaining the fiercest and most capable war-fighting force on the planet and ensuring that those who make up that force receive what they have earned. This is only accomplished by ensuring our military members receive the most advanced, modernized equipment and technology, and the sophisticated training that goes along with acquiring and maintaining those skill sets, in conjunction with responsibly managing personnel costs.

In an era of austerity, the Defense Department cannot be the only agency expected to sacrifice for fiscal management. We must have a serious discussion about reforming entitlement programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. Otherwise it is merely another double standard where the military is expected to sacrifice while others do not.

Regardless of which proposal Congress chooses for the future of military retirement plans, it must do so with the best interest of service members in mind. Current military members and retirees must be guaranteed to be grandfathered in with the current retirement system. Only those who have yet to sign on the dotted line should fall under the new retirement guidelines.

Amber Barno, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, is a military adviser to Concerned Veterans for America. 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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