The president of the Association of the United States Army, Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., testified Jan. 28 before the full Senate Armed Services Committee on the under-62 military retiree Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) cut and on military retirement compensation in general.
In his statement to the committee, Sullivan expressed his appreciation that Congress removed much of the burden of sequestration from the Department of Defense with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.
However, he stated his displeasure with the late addition of the COLA cap in the budget agreement, especially since he and this Association had been repeatedly assured by the administration, Congress and the Department of Defense that any changes to the military pay and compensation system would be carefully considered and would not include the current force or current retirees.
Sullivan said that the COLA cut "breaks faith with those who have served their nation for 20 years and with those who will retire in the future, who until now had the expectation that their retirement would keep pace with current economic conditions."
He also urged that the congressionally-created Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC), tasked with reviewing potential changes to the military retirement system, be allowed to do its job and not be preempted by legislation that affects the current force and current retirees.
We were encouraged by remarks made by members of the committee and the witnesses testifying on behalf of the Defense Department.
Christine Fox, acting deputy secretary of defense, and Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee members that the Department of Defense was not consulted before the provision was added to the budget bill and that they would like to see it fixed as soon as possible.
The committee agreed.
Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., kicked off the hearing by saying that he was against the cut.
However, he also said that the differences over finding an offset to pay for the repeal "highlight the challenges and opportunities" in repealing the provision.
Nonetheless, Levin said he believes "we must find a way to repeal it, and I predict that we will."
He stressed that he believes Congress must repeal the provision sooner rather than later to "clear the air" on the issue.
Sullivan’s bottom line to the committee regarding the COLA cut and all other proposals being thrown out: "I am troubled when I hear arguments that ‘we are paying the troops too much’ and that this is the reason we have to cut back on the training, readiness, and modernization of the force."
Adding, "At the end of the day the force is people – high quality, dedicated, and smart people. They are not the problem, but the message they hear is that they are somehow contributing to ‘unreadiness’ just by their mere presence.
"We must change this narrative.
"America can afford the defense it needs; it is simply a question of priorities.
"Shifting the burden of the nation’s fiscal troubles onto the backs those sworn to defend all of us – and their families – is unnecessary and, in my opinion, wrong."