All Justin Hunter wants is to do right by his family.
Before bipartisan legislation was passed repealing potential cuts to military retirement cost-of-living adjustments for veterans and service members for veterans under the age of 62, Hunter wondered how he would tell his children that they could no longer do after-school activities – something paid for with his COLA. The cuts, part of Congress’ budget deal in December, would have reduced the COLA for military veterans under age 62 by 1 percentage point. However, a bill signed on Feb. 15 by President Barack Obama reverses the move for veterans who joined the military before Jan. 1.
“Not only does COLA help me maintain my mortgage, but right now it helps me allow my children to do extracurricular activities,” said Hunter, 36, of Jacksonville.
Because of COLA, Hunter said he is able to build a savings account and actually look to the future rather than living paycheck to paycheck.
“I think our elected officials are losing focus on taking care of veterans,” said Hunter, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran of the Marine Corps. “They were saying we need to take care of our veterans during the wars but now they’re changing their priorities and outlook on things now that the wars are winding down. I know there are people out there who do not see us as broken and without value. I think it’s hard for elected officials to see us in that light.”
Grant Beck, the commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, wouldn’t have been affected by the cuts due to his age. However, he said he firmly believes that people can’t be selfish just because they aren’t affected. Veterans, he said, need to be proactive and push back against any legislation that threatens past, present or future veterans in a negative way.
“Anytime Congress decides they want to save money on the backs of people who have served our country, that is just wrong,” said Beck, a Vietnam veteran of the Marine Corps. “When you see these things being taken away, that’s just a slap in the face. We all signed a blank check to the American people for any amount up to and including our lives. We committed to the defense of the country and deserve more.”
One common misconception when politicians reevaluate veterans benefits, according to Beck, is that a man or woman who retires from the military is easily employable. Because of the unemployment rate and the availability of younger employees, older veterans, he said, may not get the jobs they are searching for unless they learned a very marketable skill on active duty.
The attacks on benefits, according to Beck, aren’t likely to stop soon. Many of Beck’s friends, who are of the Vietnam and Korean eras admit that the troops of today have it much better than they did and will do everything they can to ensure that future generations of service members are treated even better than Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. While it may cost more money to maintain this quality of life, Beck said it is entirely worth it.
“If the government doesn’t get any push back from the veterans, they will just continue to take things away from us,” Beck said. “They’ll try to get away with more and more. Things will snowball and it will be one thing after another. All the veterans organizations and veterans need to get off their couch and get on the telephone or computer and let their representatives know that this isn’t going to fly.”
Congressman Walter Jones, who voted against legislation to enact COLA cuts, said in an email to The Daily News that the cuts that are still in place for service members who joined after Jan. 1, make him “extremely concerned” and that he has cosponsored multiple pieces of legislation that will repeal those cuts in their entirety if passed.
“Just as today’s retired service members have rightfully earned the benefits that they receive through years of selfless service, our future service members will also make incredible sacrifices for our country,” said Jones in a February 14 press release. “That’s why I will continue working for a full repeal of the COLA cuts for all members of our armed forces – both current and future.”
Senator Hagan, in an email to The Daily News on Tuesday, said that it is unacceptable for Congress to go back on promises made to veterans and future retirees and couldn’t be more pleased that her colleagues in office repealed the cuts.
“Our brave men and women in uniform should never be used as a bargaining chip,” Hagan wrote. “I am committed to fighting against any effort to balance the budget on the backs of North Carolina veterans and service members.”