Senate Holds Hearing on COLA Cuts

On Tuesday, January 28 the Senate Armed Service Committee (SASC) held a hearing on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 and its effect on the military retirement system. Specifically, the panel sought additional details on the provision in the Act capping annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increases for working age military retirees. The National Military Family Association strongly opposes this provision and submitted a statement for the record urging that it be repealed.

Christine H. Fox, Acting Deputy Defense Secretary, and ADM James A. Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, represented Pentagon leadership before the SASC panel. Both stated for the record that the Department of Defense (DoD) was not consulted about the COLA caps by the authors of the budget agreement. In fact, while DoD officials do believe rates of military compensation growth must be slowed, Secretary Fox and ADM Winnefeld argued that any changes to the system should not affect currently serving military or retirees. They encouraged Congress to wait for the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) to issue its comprehensive report on the military compensation system before making any piecemeal changes. The Commission’s report is due in February 2015.

All of the Senators on the panel expressed support for repealing the COLA cuts, although there is no consensus on the best way to accomplish this. Various pieces of legislation repealing the cuts have been proposed in recent weeks with different proposals but none have yet come up for a vote.

However, it’s important for military families to know their voices are being heard. Speaking to representatives from veterans’ and military service organizations, who also testified before the committee, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) remarked on the volume of email messages and phone calls his office has received on the COLA cuts. He said, “I think we are firmly committed to fixing this problem. And without those emails, I'm not so sure we would be as firmly committed as we are.”

The National Military Family Association will continue to fight to overturn the COLA caps. We are also working to protect elements of the military compensation system, like the commissary, that are under attack. We need military families to speak up too! Let your representatives in Congress know how you feel about the military compensation system and how proposed cuts would affect you and your family. Use this tool to find out how to contact your Representatives and Senators.

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