Military Pensions In The Crosshairs

One of my first (if not the)posts I wrote on this blog was about the need for true austerity measures in this era of big government profligacy. A recurring theme since then is that everything must be on the table, no sacred cows are exempt and both sides must offer up their biggest pet projects and place them on the good faith alter. This debt ceiling compromise deal signed earlier this month took a step in that direction, placing both defense and Medicare spending as hostages in case the super committee can not play nice with each other.

Under the umbrella of “defense”, one area that I always thought sacrosanct was pensions, it seems now, everything is on the table:

Initially, viscerally, my first reaction was that this really stinks. Anyone who has been or knows someone serving can tell you that the pay is meager, that the benefit of a stipend at the end of 20 years (nothing to live on but a nice supplement to a regular paying job) is a major incentive. A cursory look at salaries for those in the Army bares this out. If after 20 years you are a non commissioned E6 or a commissioned captain, 50% of this is not going to support anyone. But weighing the dangers involved of combat, the hardships involved with separation from family and the hours demanded, the pensions granted seemed more then fair.

The video speaks to fairness. Existing military personnel can now contribute to TSP’s (Thrift Savings Plans) and 401K’s, and still secure the tax free benefit. The new plan would offer government contributions to all service members, even those with less then 20 year enlistments, not sure how this route is going to save federal monies because initial outlays will be higher then before, but that is what they are saying. It also mentions more money given to those in combat and high risk situations, I guess this means more government contributions to those in combat. I would like to know how much more but on it’s face, this sounds reasonable, a Navy SEAL living in the field eating MRE’s and dodging bullets daily should get way more then some cook slinging hash in relative comforts of home back in the states.

But, everything on the table, so a more examined approach is warranted. I will need to see the details first but if the military can keep attracting our best and brightest, with either better pay or an ample 401K contribution to sweeten the pot, then maybe the pension system can be eliminated.

We have talked about individual states reeling in red ink and the need for state workers to accept more of a haircut, and a serious effort to move many (most) off of the Defined Benefit Plan and into a Defined Contribution Plan would go a long way in cutting costs. But where I have always advocated getting state workers off the tit, their monthly pay compensates them amply, military folks were different.

So, is this a good idea? Will it hurt recruiting? And can other factors, other means of compensation make up for what military people have counted on for generations?

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  1. Seattle Outcast

    The vast majority of enlisted people are not lifers – those that are lifers aren’t doing it for the cash. I don’t see this hurting recruiting very much.

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  2. TxAg94

    I don’t know if it’s a good idea or a bad one. I do think it should be “on the table” and a reasonable debate undertaken to come up with a good balance of saving money while still doing right by our military personnel.

    The thing I keep thinking, though, is that this is being proposed so soon only to either gauge public commitment to real spending reform or, worse, to use as a political tool to turn the public against cuts in general.

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  3. Dave D

    Most comapnies (mine included) are:

    1) eliminating pensions and going to matched 401K’s. I was JUST at the point where my pension was starting to grow at ~15-18% a year and they eliminated it, rolled over the (low) cash value into a 401K on my behalf and now match the first 5% I put in. I will have to save over 20% of my pay until I retire just to catch up to the pension I was promised when I started in 1990.

    2) making people pay about 20% of their total health care cost. My premiums go up each year and JUST ABOUT eat up my raise.

    If this is how corporate America is living, then so should government and service people.

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