Following weeks of mounting pressure from U.S. Senator Mark Begich and veterans groups to reverse unfair cuts to cost of living adjustments for military retirees, the Senate today voted 95-3 to restore those benefits.
Begich has been aggressive in calling for full restoration of the COLA benefit for veterans who made their careers in the military and were promised full pensions. He has taken to the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to support our vets and participated in multiple events alongside veterans organizations.
On Monday, Begich"s bill to repeal the COLA reduction unanimously passed a Senate hurdle by a vote of 94-0. The unwavering bipartisan support sent a clear signal that there was simply no more time to waste. Recognizing the pressure to act quickly, the House of Representatives then voted on its own fix Wednesday afternoon.
"I made it clear that I would not back down until this was problem was fixed and our promise kept," said Begich. "As I have said over and over again -- you either stand with our vets or against them and ultimately those who were trying to delay this fix realized they didn't want to be on the wrong side."
As part of his pledge to restore these benefits as quickly as possible, Begich voted in favor of the measure brought to the Senate floor today. While Begich had previously explained that he didn't think it was fair to stall the issue for the sake of a political argument over a "pay-for," the frequently divided House agreed to pass the fix along with a pay-for, clearing its path to the Senate.
"As I have said over and over again, veterans have already paid for these benefits with their service," said Begich. "All veterans deserve the full retirement COLA that was promised to them when they joined the military. We made major progress today after months of fighting to restore these benefits."
Said Joe Sheehan, Fairbanks, AK Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired:
"As a conservative, I want to thank Senator Begich for his strong support of military veterans and for keeping the promises made to those who have served. This COLA provision was unconscionable as it targeted veterans first for cuts, retroactively reneging on promises, while simultaneously adding a myriad of wasteful programs to our budget at the expense of military readiness through sequestration."
The COLA reduction still will be applicable to persons who become members of the military after January 1, 2014 -- the date the Bipartisan Budget Act was passed. Medically retired service members and surviving spouses and children are exempted from the COLA cut entirely.
Begich noted he still doesn't agree with a COLA reduction on military retirement for new enlistees but noted "at least now we have restored fairness to those who signed on the dotted line to serve their country in exchange for a full COLA. Having fixed the immediate break of faith we can now begin a rationale conversation in Congress about the importance of military benefits and better offsets."
Begich has sponsored additional legislation to replace the COLA reduction savings by closing a tax loophole for overseas corporation. In addition, Begich co-sponsored a similar measure as an amendment to the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act. Begich also pushed for the amendment to be incorporated into the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.