Officials: Better retirement deserved

By Tom Philpott: PNT columnist

Reserve and National Guard members deserve a better retirement plan, one that pays an annuity earlier than age 60 at least for those willing to serve longer than 20 years. That’s what Reserve leaders have told Congress.

Reservists might deserve extended health care coverage too, also in recognition of their full operational role in Iraq, Afghanistan and future wars, said some reserve component commanders who testified last week before the House armed services subcommittee on military personnel.

“My soldiers … are proud of what they’re doing,” said Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief of Army Reserve. “But they say ‘What are you doing for me? Are you going to do anything about the retirement age? Are you going to do anything about medical care? Because you’re asking more of me but I don’t see, in return, you giving back as much.’ That’s what I’m focused on.”

Current reserve retirement offers little or no incentive for members to serve past 20 years, Stultz said, because longer service doesn’t change the age 60 start of annuities. So it’s hard to persuade members or spouses that another hitch is worth the risk of returning to war or being separated, Stultz explained. He cited a recent conversation with a Guardsman whose skill — truck driver — is dangerous and in demand among units deploying for war.

“He said, ‘Sir, I’ve got 22 years in and there is no incentive for me to stay. … I’ve got to go home and face my wife. If I tell her I’m re-enlisting, she’s going to ask ‘What are they going to give you?’ I’ll say, ‘Nothing.’ She’s going to say, ‘Then you’re (just) volunteering to go back.’ ”

“There’s got to be … a reason to stay,” said Stultz, “once you’ve earned eligibility for retirement because we’re going to give you something. I think lowering the retirement age for staying beyond 20 (is) that incentive.”

A law passed in early 2008 does allow earlier retirement than age 60 for Reserve and Guard members with 20 or more years if they deploy for war or national emergency. For every 90 consecutive days they spend mobilized, reservists will see the start date for annuities cut by three months. But Congress made the change effective only for deployment time after Jan. 28, 2008, leaving out many thousands deployed since 9-11.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: milupdate@aol.com