- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

While President Obama talked about many initiatives to help veterans during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, veterans’ groups criticized him Wednesday for not demanding a full repeal of cuts to military retirement benefits.

Last month’s budget deal included a provision to reduce working-age military retirees cost-of-living adjustment to one percent below inflation until a retiree reaches age 62. Veteran’s groups and many lawmakers have united in calling for a fix, with many members of Congress introducing plans to pay for a $6 billion repeal.

“The American Legion is disappointed that President Obama did not show more leadership in dealing with the COLA issue,” Daniel M. Dellinger, the American Legion’s national commander, said Wednesday in a statement.

“He promised us, back in August 2011 at our national convention, that he would not balance the federal budget on the backs of America’s veterans. But that is exactly what he is allowing Congress to do,” he said.

The omnibus appropriations bill completed earlier this month repealed the cuts for disabled veterans and surviving families of deceased veterans, but the cuts are still scheduled to take effect for other retirees in December 2015.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America, also said he was frustrated that the president was silent on the issue of military retirement cuts.

“Veterans across the country are reeling from the surprise attack to their earned benefits. We need immediate action from the president and Congress to restore the promises our country made to them and their families,” Mr. Rieckhoff said in a statement.

“Veterans don’t want any more excuses and won’t take no for an answer. It’s time to restore the retirement cuts,” he concluded.

Mr. Rieckhoff was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning urging lawmakers to undo the cuts as soon as possible, before attending Tuesday night’s speech as the guest of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat.

Despite being critical of the president for omitting the COLA cuts from his speech, both veterans’ group leaders commended the president on his promises to reduce the disability claims backlog, improve access to healthcare and mental health services for vets, and work to decrease unemployment among veterans.

“We know he wants to do right by our men and women who have worn the uniform and defended America,” Mr. Dellinger said. “The Legion will do everything it can to support his efforts to reduce the claims backlog, strengthen medical services at VA and DoD, and get more of our veterans back into the civilian workforce.”

• Jacqueline Klimas can be reached at jklimas@washingtontimes.com.

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