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Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan blasted Congress for cutting the pensions of military retirees, calling the cuts a “line in the sand.”
The House of Representatives passed the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill 359 to 67 on Wednesday, which kept in place the vast majority of pension cuts for military retirees.
Voting “yes” were 166 Republicans and 193 Democrats. Sixty-four Republican members voted against the bill, joined by three Democrats.
The bill repealed the 1 percentage reduction in the cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for disabled retirees, and also exempted individuals who participate in the Survivors Benefit program. However, these groups account for only 17.5 percent of those receiving military pensions.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a nonprofit organization that represents more than 270,000 veterans and civilian supporters, said elected officials have broken their promise to men and women in uniform.
“Congress broke its promise to veterans by agreeing to cuts to military retirees,” said IAVA CEO and founder Paul Rieckhoff. “Congress is crossing a line in the sand by failing to fully protect veterans benefits.”
“Veterans nationwide continue to demand that Congress listen to us and repeal cuts to military retirees as quickly as possible,” he said.
Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) voted for the spending package, but said he would continue to work to restore the pension cuts to military retirees, which could cost service members up to $124,000 in lost retirement pay. The controversial provision originated in the bipartisan budget agreement signed into law last month.
“While I found it important to support the passage of a bipartisan spending bill which points us toward regular order in Washington and addresses my concerns regarding pension adjustments for military retirees with disabilities, this budget did not reinstate all the adjustments as I had proposed in H.R. 3788,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “I will continue pushing this bipartisan bill to offset the cost of these adjustments by closing costly loopholes within the IRS.”
Fitzpatrick and Rep. Martha Roby (R., Ala.) introduced one of the first bills in the House to offset the cuts by closing a loophole that allows illegal aliens to receive tax credits.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) has also pledged to keep working to reinstate full pensions for all military retirees.
The IAVA is circulating an online petition urging Congress to reverse the cuts. The petition had 10,597 signatures as of Wednesday.
“Because my husband has kept the faith in his obligations to the Army over twenty years of service, seven years of separation from his family,” said petition signatory Reda Hicks.
“He has kept his promises, now it is time for our government to keep its promises to him,” she said.