The House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Personnel held a hearing Tuesday afternoon before a number of representatives of The Military Coalition (TMC), including the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), on Military Retirement Reform. Since the Defense Business Board (DBB) released recommendations for a military retirement overhaul this past July, this issue has prompted anxiety among servicing members, many of whom are represented by the organizations within TMC. Under the proposed plan suggested by the DBB, the Department of Defense (DoD) would do away with the current military retirement system. The Board suggested for military retirement compensation would be altered from a “defined benefit” to a “defined contribution” as private sector plans have done using a 401(k) style plan, allowing members of the armed forces to be vested between three to five years. Under this system, service members would begin collecting retirement from age 57—60. This would eliminate the military career of twenty years minimum required for a retiree to immediately begin collecting retirement.
Although only four individuals were asked to sit on the panel as witnessed, the groups represented included the DoD, and the thirty-four organizations that comprise the TMC, including Reserve Officers Association and the Reserve Enlisted Association. Subcommittee Chairman Joe Wilson noted the absence of one significant group involved in the retirement reform conversation: The Defense Business Board (DBB), who declined the subcommittee’s invitation to testify at the hearing. The Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Jo Ann Rooney, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, Virginia. S. Penrod, represented the DoD. Both Rooney and Penrod maintained a boilerplate assurance that the DoD is currently reviewing the military retirement system, but have neither completed this review nor endorsed the recommendations of the DBB. It should be noted, however, that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified at a House hearing on military budget issues on October 12. In that hearing, Panetta stated that there are no immediate plans to change the military’s retirement system, but any future changes will not affect those currently serving.
Representatives from TMC, Colonel Steve Strobridge and John Davis, however, reiterated the sentiments included in ROA’s testimony submitted to the hearing. They stated that Congress and the DoD should recognize the distinct differences between a military career and a civilian career, including the retirement systems of each.
No permanent change to the military retirement system was recommended at the hearing. The absence of DBB limited the conversation regarding their suggested changes, and the representatives from DoD maintained that no changes could be discussed until the Department completed its review of the military pay and compensation package.
Nevertheless, ROA and TMC brought to the forefront the real implications of changes to the military retirement system. As the serving armed forces represent less than 1 percent of the Unites States population with the retirees representing just another 6/10s of a percent, the ROA and TMC underlined the sacrifices and stress faced by this group of men and women are unique compared to the remaining 98.5 percent of American citizens. It is important that the DoD considers the effects any changes have on the morale, structure, and readiness, including the recruitment and retention, of our armed forces. Those who have sacrificed should not have to sacrifice again in their retirement compensation.
Since following this issue since 2003, ROA is willing to work with the committee to find better ways to effectively reduce costs to not only maintain an adequate national security, but sustain the benefits of those who have served to attain it.