Finance

Disabled veterans to be exempted from pension cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — A massive spending bill taking shape on Capitol Hill is likely to repeal a recently enacted pension cut for disabled veterans.

Capitol Hill aides said Wednesday that the $1 trillion-plus omnibus spending bill measure will reverse a 1 percentage point cut to annual cost-of-living increases that was inadvertently applied to more than 63,000 veterans who have left the military due to injury or disability.

But the controversial pension cut included in last month's budget agreement would continue to apply to other military retirees. It would save about $6 billion over the coming decade, money that's being used to ease cuts to the Pentagon budget this year.

The pension cuts have drawn fierce opposition from veterans groups and lawmakers in both parties, but it's unclear whether the entire provision will be repealed. The aides required anonymity because the spending bill isn't complete and they aren't authorized to discuss it publicly.

Some lawmakers originally claimed, incorrectly, that the pension cut in last month's budget bill would not apply to disabled veterans. When they discovered that it did, they immediately promised to correct it. The upcoming budget measure is the first available vehicle.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently defended the pension cut in an op-ed in USA Today, saying he stands behind "responsible reforms of military compensation." Service members are permitted to retire at half pay after 20 years in the military, which means they can claim their pensions as early as age 38, a generous benefit that defenders say helps retain servicemen and women. He says a typical serviceman who retirees at 38 would receive a $1.7 million pension over his lifetime instead of a $1.8 million benefit and that most military retirees go on to second careers.

House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said the pension provision is "part of the conversation" lawmakers are having on the omnibus spending measure, which lawmakers hope to release as early as Friday.

A short-term spending bill expires Jan. 15 and Congress needs to act before then to avert a government shutdown. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said Wednesday that he's pressing for a short extension of perhaps two days to buy more time to pass the measure through Congress next week.

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