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Are Military Pensions Too ‘Generous’?


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WASHINGTON — It sounds like a pretty good deal: Retire at age 38 after 20 years of work and get a monthly pension of half your salary for the rest of your life. All you have to do is join the military.

As the nation tightens its budget belt, the century-old military retirement system has come under attack as unaffordable, unfair to some who serve and overly generous compared with civilian benefits.

That very notion, laid out in a Pentagon-ordered study, sent a wave of fear and anger through the ranks of current and retired military members when it was reported in the news media this month. Are Military Pensions Too ‘Generous’?

In contrast: The current salary (2011) for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year.

Congressional pension is a pension made available to members of the United States Congress. Members who participated in the congressional pension system are vested after five (5) years of service. A full pension is available to Members 62 years of age with 5 years of service; 50 years or older with 20 years of service; or 25 years of service at any age. A reduced pension is available depending upon which of several different age/service options is chosen. If Members leave Congress before reaching retirement age, they may leave their contributions behind and receive a deferred pension later.[1] The current pension program, effective January 1987, is under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), which covers members and other federal employees whose federal employment began in 1984 or later. This replaces the older Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) for most members of congress and federal employees.

In fact, they are so generous that some former lawmakers’ annual pensions are twice as high as their pre-retirement congressional salary. Among the major provisions:

Payout is based on a special formula. Most companies base pensions on the average of an employee’s five highest-paid years, plus 1.5 percent. But lawmakers get the average of their highest three years’ pay – inflating the total by giving more weight to peak years – plus as much as 2.5 percent.

Congressional pension payments rise each year under a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. Virtually no companies offer pensions that match a rise in the Consumer Price Index.

Both lawmakers and staffers can retire with a full, guaranteed pension at age 50 after 20 years of service, whereas most American workers must wait until they are 65.

Hold on, for 20 years and you can retire with a full pension as early as age 50 and live the rest of your life in relative luxury – at taxpayers’ expense? And that does not include your tax-deferred savings plan, which taxpayers match nearly dollar-for-dollar, or Social Security benefits (like all workers, members of Congress pay into the system on the first $80,400 of their gross income).

Many members who have recently left Congress will draw more than $1 million over their lifetimes. Some are expected to haul in more than $2 million, projects the National Taxpayers Union.

Good grief.

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About Capers Bar

I am retired Army officer. I used to fly helicopters and airplanes while I was in the Army. Nowadays, I do other things that are not so cool and sexy. I decided to write about my journey or whatever you want to call it towards running a half-marathon this fall. I have been running since 1983, I have run the Duke City full and half marathons. I don't run that fast anymore, I did win a 10K when I was 21, those days are mercifully past me. The fastest mile I have turned is a 5:05 during one of those Army physical fitness test 2 mile runs. The point I am making is that I am old, slow, and experienced runner. I named the blog after my running buddy, Bandit, an Australian Blue Heeler. He is my 3rd K-9 running buddy, the previous two dogs were black labs. I hope to write about some of my discussions that I have with Bandit in the future. I once owned, but since sold and a satirical and irreverent sports blog that was moderately successful. I was published in the left-wing national sports media by Sports Illustrated and ESPN. I am "stuck" in Alabama working for a military contractor. I am working so fricking hard to get back to Southeast New Mexico or West Texas. Fingers and toes crossed.

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