Six-ish years ago, I fell in love with a man. The best man I know, actually. Kind-hearted and strong, we bonded right away. First we were pen pals, then loves, then husband and wife, and now mom and dad to a beautiful little boy.
But it wasn't always easy. When we met, Jake was already in a long-term relationship. He made the commitment when he was young, and he had been honoring it faithfully for over thirteen years by the time he met me. I decided I wanted to spend my life with him anyway, and accept the consequences. Because he was worth it. See, Jake wasn't just the best man I knew. He was also a soldier.
Fast-forward to today. Jake is still faithfully serving the Army, now in his twentieth year. Meanwhile, we have lived geographically separated, first Ft. Lewis-Houston, then Ft. Rucker-Houston, then Ft. Polk-Houston, and now Ft. Riley-Houston. Or rather, Afghanistan-Houston since Jake is now deployed.
Living our entire marriage (and our son's entire life so far), separated has not been easy. It's been filled with frustrations, hardships, and more time than I ever thought I'd spend in planes and cars just to see my husband. But we made the decision together, from the beginning, that enduring was worth it. Making it to retirement would be worth it.
Retirement would mean funds to help transition Jake from military to civilian life--no small task at a time when veteran unemployment is 10% higher than the national average. It would mean greater ability to save toward college funds for our children. It would mean the ability to pay down our own student loans.
But all those things are really secondary considerations. The most important thing retirement means--The. Most. Important--is an expression of gratitude. It means recognition of the sacrifices associated with a lifetime dedicated to service in defense of our nation. It means thanks for all of the opportunities foregone, the birthdays and holidays missed, the separations and deployments and frequent moves.
It means a nation worthy of the service bestowed freely by its best and brightest.
Within the next year, my husband will have fulfilled all of his obligations to the United States Army, finishing twenty-two years of service, and more than seven years of it spent away from his family.
But today, Congress decided that although Jake has kept all of his promises, the government is somehow absolved from keeping its own.
Via a new provision in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (BBA), Congress is making reductions in retirement benefits that will result in a 20% reduction in retired pay. Supporters of the BBA have sold the changes as "minor" reductions. They are anything but. For our family, the changes would translate into a loss of over $80,000. For other families, it will be as much as $124,000.
The irony is, Congress put its own protections in place to prevent such a situation. The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Committee (MCRMC) was added to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 to carefully review such decisions, and to ensure that current soldiers received grandfather treatment to respect the terms under which they'd been serving for so many years. But Congress ignored its own safeguards. The MCRMC was not given the opportunity to review BBA, and there is no grandfather provision to safeguard existing benefits for soldiers near retirement.
This is hardly thanks for decades of service. It is certainly not gratitude. Put simply, it is a breach of good faith. Employers are successfully sued every day in this country for treating workers this way. That is likely why the BBA, while failing to protect veterans, does contain grandfather provisions for all other government workers--the civilian cuts apply only to new hires. No so with members of the military.
There aren't even words to articulate the ridiculousness of asking retired members of our military to shoulder cuts not imposed on other government employees. Or of marketing the BBA as a way to reduce the burden of sequestration when all it really does is allocate the burden even more disproportionately onto the backs of those who have sacrificed so much of their lives in service. "Repugnant" comes to mind, though I don't think that covers it.
Next week, the BBA will make its way to the Senate for the vote. I'm asking you--all of you--to help us fight it by using the Military Officers Association of America tool, the Change.org petition started by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and social media, to contact your legislators and let them know you want them to #KeepYourPromise, #KeepCOLA, and say #NoVetCuts.