No retroactive early retirement for reserves

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Congressional negotiators blamed themselves for leaving intact a reserve retirement formula that treats the 600,000 National Guard and reserve members who mobilized before Jan. 28, 2008, differently from those who mobilized later.

Negotiators who prepared the final version of the 2010 defense authorization bill rejected a Senate-passed provision that would have made retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001, a retirement formula that allows reservists to begin drawing military retired pay 90 days earlier for every 90 days of mobilization.

That 90-for-90 rule, which allows Guard and reserve members to receive retirement before age 60 — when benefits begin for most reservists — was left out of the final defense bill because lawmakers said they could not find a way to pay for the benefits under congressional budget rules.

The House of Representatives gave final approval to the bill Thursday. The Senate is expected to take up the bill this week.

In their report accompanying the defense bill, negotiators said they “would support the provision provided that acceptable offsets are identified consistent with budgetary requirements of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

Under congressional budget rules, if lawmakers want to increase military retirement benefits, they must either reduce spending on other federal entitlements or make a decision at the start of the budget cycle to set aside more entitlement money for the Defense Department.

Negotiators from the House and Senate armed services committees who worked out details of the final defense bill did not have the power to do either, leaving them no choice but to reject the retroactive increases in retired pay.

This is not the first time congressional budget rules have prevented retroactive improvements in retired pay. In 2007, when lawmakers first decided to give mobilization credit toward earlier retirement benefits to Guard and reserve members, the change was not made retroactive to the start of deployments in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks because of the entitlement spending limits.

Despite a demand from major military associations that everyone mobilized since the 2001 terrorist attacks should be treated the same, lawmakers failed in 2008 and again this year to find a way to cover the estimated $550 million in additional retired pay for the 600,000 people who had been mobilized for 90 days or longer between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 28, 2008.

Congressional aides who work on military personnel issues, who asked not to be identified, said they expect that lawmakers who have been pushing hardest for the reserve retired pay improvements — Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. — will try again next year to make mobilization credit retroactive when Congress works on the 2011 defense budget.

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