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750,000 military retiree pensions at stake

Posted at 6:38 PM, Feb 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-12 13:57:04-05

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) — Some 750,000 military retirees have tens of thousands of dollars at stake when Congress votes this evening on a bill to restore their pensions.

The House is expected to vote Tuesday night and the Senate could vote on Wednesday on different measures that will dial back cuts to military pension benefits.

The fate of both bills is uncertain.

Back in December, a deal to fund the federal government led Congress to trim a full percentage point from cost-of-living raises for military retirees starting in 2015, yielding $6.3 billion in savings.

The move sparked outrage among veterans and retiree groups, who accused Congress of “betraying” promises made to those who risked their lives in wars overseas.

Under the cuts, 750,000 military personnel will see a decrease in pensions that average around $69,000 for enlisted members and $87,000 for officers over their lifetime, according to a February Congressional Research Service report.

Lawmakers generally agree they want to help military retirees, but they can’t agree on how to pay for reinstating the increases, which would cost around $6 billion.

Besides the two upcoming votes, Congress is also contending with more than a dozen other bills in both chambers to reinstate full military retiree pension increases.

“We’ve said this all along, we support a bipartisan effort to fix this wrong,” said Army Col. Michael Barron, who retired four years ago, after 30 years of service. He was deployed to Iraq during both wars and he faces a cut.

“But, we’ve not signed on to any particular offset. That’s Congress’ job,” said Barron, deputy director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America, a group leading the effort to repeal the pension cuts.

Most military retirees are a lot younger than private sector retirees. They enlist in their 20’s and retire in their 40’s. Very few stay on until they reach 62 — those who may be lucky enough to escape major injuries at war, or rose to higher echelons in the military system.

Last month, lawmakers reversed course on part of the pension cuts. They said they never intended to hurt disabled veterans or surviving families, and passed a bill to restore those pensions, leaving out most retirees.

— CNN’s Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report.