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While Budget Deal is Celebrated by DoD, It Does Little to Help Veterans

by Wendy Innes, published
Last week, Congress announced a two-year budget agreement that would reduce the current budget deficit, avoid another government shutdown in January, and ease the automatic cuts of sequestration that have sent the defense department reeling. And while there is some contention with the agreement, the consensus among lawmakers and those in the know is that this deal is a move in the right direction.

The deal, brokered by the Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), would see modest cuts to the defense budget, but nothing as severe as the cuts experienced under sequestration.

According to Loren Thompson of Forbes, this budget deal is great news for the defense department. The cuts to the DoD under this budget agreement would only be about half of what would have occurred under another year of sequestration, and the cuts would be made in a more intelligent way.

"Rather than seeing the president's base-budget request of $527 billion for 2014 reduced by about 10%, the cut would be a more modest 5%-leaving the defense department with budget authority for the year of $500 billion," Thompson said.

He also said the military would get additional funding for overseas contingency operations and spending related to defense from other departments, such as the Department of Energy for nuclear weapons projects. Thompson added that because these cuts will be made in a different way, it's good news, not just for the DoD, but for the entire defense industry.

"The reason this development is such good news for the defense industry is that the Obama Administration has sought to generate a disproportionate share of Pentagon savings both before the Budget Control Act became law and after by slashing weapons accounts," he said. "Sequestration thus would have continued a shift in the composition of military spending away from investment accounts and into what might be called consumption accounts such as military pay and readiness-with negative consequences for industry results."

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and DoD comptroller Robert Hale said last month that sequestration had caused damage to the department, and that a budget deal would be the only way to keep further automatic cuts from devastating the department. So, this budget deal was welcomed by DoD officials.

"This agreement does not solve all of DoD's budget problems, but it helps us address our readiness, especially in 2014, with putting more money back into training in particular, and procurement," Hagel said in a Pentagon news conference with Singapore’s Defense Minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen last week. "It also gives us some new certainty and predictability for our planning, for our budgeting over the next two years, which is particularly important."

Hagel also expressed concern for how other nations viewed the U.S. and its budget woes.

"We are going to come together as a country, as a Congress, and make some tough choices and decisions and commit resources where we have to commit them," he said. "And it gives, I hope, some assurance to our allies and friends like Singapore that we're going to do this."

One group that is not happy with the deal, however, are military service members and veteran organizations. Under this budget deal, the retirement package of service members would take a hit, and in some cases this hit means over $80,000 that service members earned.

According to Ken Wiseman, the legislative director for the VFW in Hampton Roads, Virginia, home to one of the largest military communities in the country, this cut is hitting those the hardest who can least afford it.

"I can tell you there are countless members of my generation who have seen 8 or more deployments to combat zones, and after 20 years of military service, our pension should be ours," said Wiseman. He went on to say that veterans who are going to be subjected to the cut are going to be forced between buying food or keeping the lights on.

The retirement package is one thing that drew many service members to the service in the first place. Often those who do retire young depend on the retirement pay they receive to sustain their families while they seek civilian employment, something that frequently takes longer for veterans than non-veterans for a variety of reasons.

While it was initially reported that those who were medically retired -- something that occurs as a result of a service-related injury or illness -- would be exempt, this is not the case. The U.S. now has a generation of wounded warriors who are being asked to endure one more hardship, and some in Congress believe it's wrong. However, an attempt in the Senate to introduce an amendment to restore military retirement was shut down by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"Veterans have never stopped believing in this country, and will never stop serving our country, but sometimes Congress stops believing in us. They have demonstrated today they will stop taking care of us," Wiseman said.

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