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N.D. vets eye Pentagon's pension cuts; Congress trying to undo change

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North Dakota veterans are watching, but not yet pounding on doors, over recent cuts to military pensions for some veterans.

Under a budget agreement in Congress, which President Barack Obama signed in late December, military veterans who still are working would see smaller cost-of-living increases in their pensions, starting in 2015.

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"We're lobbying for the continuation of benefits that all veterans deserve," said Dan Stenvold, president of the North Dakota chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of American.

Stenvold, who also is mayor of Park River, N.D., this week attended a VVA national meeting in the Washington, D.C., area.

The legislation included a measure to phase in a 1 percent reduction in cost-of-living increases for military retirees still of working age. Once the military retiree turns 62, he or she would receive full payments.

According to Veterans of Foreign Wars, an E-7 retiring at age 40 stood to lose as much as $80,000 before his full pension kicks in. An E-7 is a master sergeant in the Air Force and a sergeant first class in the Army.

Complaints

The local reaction to the legislation contrasts with the national reaction in which many veterans groups expressed outrage at the COLA reduction.

VFW National Commander William Thien said in a December news release that the "COLA penalty breaks faith with military retirees.... It requires those who have sacrificed so much for our nation to sacrifice even more."

Earlier this month, American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger, wrote a scathing editorial in USA Today, saying "Why would Congress approve such an ill-conceived proposal in the first place? The COLA cuts will produce $6.3 billion in savings over 10 years. Does Capitol Hill lack the resolve to find those savings elsewhere? Out of all Americans receiving benefits from the federal government, military retirees were the only ones targeted for a direct reduction in payments."

Finding fix

Meanwhile, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., has written legislation to repeal the COLA reductions and pay for an unemployment benefits extension by spreading savings across the current 10-year budget window.

"Our bill is a sensible measure that not only fixes the COLA reduction for military retirees that was in the budget, but also fully pays for it," Hoeven said in a new release. "In addition, it also pays for the extension in Unemployment Insurance benefits to ensure that we don't increase the nation's deficit or debt."

Lawmakers in both the Senate and the House have said they want to fix the COLA reduction, too, by finding other ways to trim the budget. However, leading Democrats have indicated the issue should not be tied to an extension of unemployment benefits.

"We're monitoring it, but until they do something, we can't do much about it," Stenvold said.

Ed Milligan, a Korea and Vietnam veteran who hosts a monthly radio talk show, The Veteran's Hour, on KFGO 790 AM, said the issue has been a quiet one, so far.

"I haven't heard anybody talking about it, at least not yet," he said. "Most military guys I know are pretty laid back, until it pinches them in the butt."

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