Stephen Jenks’ Jan. 7 letter “Pension plans,” calling for reductions in military pensions, prompted several letters opposing his view. When other readers are critical of a letter, we generally do not, for a variety of reasons, let the original writer have a letter responding to the criticism. But we decided to put Jenks’ response on the blog so readers can continue to discuss the issue.
My letter clearly struck a chord with several readers, who have had letters of response published. I would like to clarify the intent of my concerns about military pensions and put the issue in a broader context.
First, I do not support any changes in the pensions of retirees nor of the pension plans of those currently serving in the military. The government should honor its agreements with those serving their country; and this should apply to all public servants, not just those in the military.
Second, I believe that the budget for the Department of Defense should get the same scrutiny that is being given to domestic programs, but I don’t recall seeing any substantive discussion of the $486.9 billion approved for “core programs, about the same level as last year” as reported in the Jan. 15 paper “$1.1 trillion in spending set.” This does not include the Department of Veterans Affairs (approximately $150 billion per year) and may not include all the costs for operations in Afghanistan.
According to research by PolitiFact.com, using information from Pentagon reports, there were more than 660 military bases in 38 foreign countries in 2010. Why are we not talking about the clear evidence that the U.S. continues to be “policeman for the world” with all the costs that entails? And that as is often cited, the U.S. defense budget exceeds that of the next 10 or 15 countries combined. Interestingly, at least two writers noted that a part of the rationale for receiving pensions after 20 years is the toll on members of the military and their families, due to frequent moves to take assignments at other bases. Just because this is how the military has operated in the past does not mean this is the most effective way to operate in the future.
At one time, employees at IBM bemoaned that the company’s initials stood for “I’ve Been Moved.” But IBM executives modified the policy of regular moves as they recognized the adverse affect on productivity, morale and retention.
Military pensions should be just part of the discussion. If we have a large military, we inevitably will have a large cost for pensions that have clearly been earned by the members of the military. But when the U.S. spends such a large portion of its budget on defense, we are not investing as much as we could in other critical areas such as education and infrastructure – the size of the pie is limited and our national debt isn’t getting any smaller.
Stephen S. Jenks
Read his original letter here.
Here are some of the responses:
Regarding the Jan. 7 letter “Pension plans”: I am a retired USMC combat veteran of the Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. I hope my perspective can shed some light on the letter-writer’s misconception of what this country’s career warriors should receive after 20 years of service in uniform and answer his two questions.
First, “Isn’t a pension after 20 years of service very generous? Can we really afford this over the long term?” Answer: Let’s look at an example of retirement pay for an average military career. Since military members are eligible for retirement benefits at 20 years, I will use a reasonable rank and service time for my examples. It is reasonable to assume that the average enlisted member will be able to retire at 20 years having achieved the rank of E-7 and that the average officer should be able to retire at 20 years at the rank of O-5 (I am aiming on the conservative side because many people choose to serve longer than 20 years, earning an extra 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent on their retirement pay per additional service year).
The base pay for these ranks in 2009 was:
• E-7 monthly: $3,995.40
• E-7 annually: $47,944.80
• O-5 monthly: $7,697.40
• O-5 annually: $92,368.80
Most retirees at 20 years will receive 50 percent of their base pay, which would equal the following amounts:
• E-7 Monthly: $1,997.20
• E-7 Annually: $23,972.40
• O-5 Monthly: $3,848.70
• O-5 Annually: $46,184.40
Nobody’s getting rich.
As far as affording to do this “over the long term,” can we afford not to do this? Strangely enough, on the same date of the letter, there was a news story “$18B price put on effort to block carp” about the most effective methods of keeping carp from invading the Great Lakes via Chicago’s web of waterways. Where is the public “outrage” over that?
Comparing a military career of 20 years with a 20-year career in the private sector is comparing apples to oranges. Not taking anything away from a career spent doing any particular job, but consider this: By the time a career in the military is over, many of us are broken. I’m talking physically and/or mentally. I can only assume the writer has never served in the military. I will also assume that he had the opportunity to join the service but chose not to. No harm there in my book. The Marine Corps has a saying, “The few, the proud.” Not everyone can be a Marine.
His final comment was, “Most everyone who is able does work from age 42 through to age 62 or older.” Unfortunately, for my service-connected disabled brothers and sisters out there, some cannot. Instead, they find themselves at the mercy of the VA claims process with some waiting years to get “fair and just compensation.”
I ask that the writer reconsider his justification for suggesting any retired service member of any branch of service should wait to receive retirement pay.
Peter M. Bimonte
Regarding the Jan. 7 letter “Pension plans”: The writer has no idea what military life is about.
I spent 25 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, my life was mostly on hold. Numerous stations around the world, family separations, constant deployments and endless training. And let me not forget the career-long low pay! Perhaps the writer would have a point if the pay had been generous. Entering the Army in 1967, my pay was $87 a month.
There are a lot of flag wavers out there but not many who would willingly pick up the rifle and guard the post. It takes a special person. These are our military veterans, our police and firefighters, who while we sleep make sure we are protected.
The writer apparently wants to be protected on the cheap. That’s fine with me. Let the writer move to Mexico or some other Third World country and let me know how that works out for him. Until that time, I suggest that we honor our promises and commitments. Those who protected and served us worked long hours, even for those who are thankless!
The writer of the Jan. 7 letter “Pension plans” should have done some research before deciding that I do not deserve my military pension because I started receiving it prior to age 62. Nor is it specifically compensation for “serving in a war zone” as he also believes.
On an hourly basis, during my 21-year career I probably worked the equivalent of 35-plus civilian years. The pay was considerably less than a civilian counterpart would make while working his mere eight-hour day. My working days (and nights) were frequently very long, and weekends and holidays were for the most part just another day of duty. In addition, there were the hardships of constant transfers, family separation and even combat zone duty.
All the preceding is why active-duty military retirement (and “generous” it is not) is based on 20 (or more) years and but one of many reasons we “lifers” stayed in. Another is pride.
Stanley W. Sokolove
U.S. Navy (Retired), Raleigh
The writer of the Jan. 7 letter “Pension plans” apparently has never put on a military uniform.
Yes, a person can put in 20 years and retire with a pension for life. But during that 20 years, a military person gets low pay compared with civilians and is on call 24/7. There is no such thing as an eight-hour shift and then go home. They go when told.
Coast Guard members are saving lives in cold Arctic waters and rescuing ships in the Antarctic and hurricane victims in New Orleans. Some U.S. Navy and Marine Corps members are away from their families nine months or longer. Army and National Guard personnel are deployed 12 to 15 months in enemy territory fighting a war or preventing one, not just one time but several times in their military careers. Air Force personnel travel the globe watching a ready light, refueling planes, flying into combat zones. Working up the pay grade can take 15 years. Many low-ranked personnel are on food stamps.
Until someone walks in a pair of military shoes for 20 years, he will never understand the hardships we have been through. We have put our lives on the line many times, and we are not “entitled” to a pension. We earned it the hard way.
U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)
The writer of the Jan. 7 letter “Pension plans,” like President Obama and nearly all of Congress, is obviously not a retired military professional. So my retirement is too generous!
When I retired as a Navy commander (O5), my retired pay was $32,000 after 29 years (1964-1993). To earn that generous pension, I worked normally 18 hours per day, seven days a week, at sea on submarines and surface ships. I was deployed at sea six to seven months, not counting weekly operations to prepare. In port duty, days were 36 hours long: 24-hour duty day and 12 hours the next workday with duty every third day. Shore duty at the Bureau of Personnel started at 0400 to receive calls from overseas and ended about 6 to 7 p.m. We had 11 geographical moves in 25 years of marriage with average out-of-pocket cost of $5,000 to $8,000. I had yearly evaluations, up or out policy, hazardous duty at sea on submarines, submarine rescue and salvage, diving and deep submergence operations.
At retirement I started a second career because $32,000 would not support four kids 9 to 20 years old. I think I earned my retirement, and I obviously did not serve for the pay.