Hagel Assures Disabled Vets Benefits Won't be Cut

Thursday, 09 Jan 2014 01:01 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has "assured" disabled military veterans that they will not be affected by the cuts to military retirement benefits under the bipartisan budget that was passed last month, Stars and Stripes reports.

The budget plan, brokered by Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, calls for a one percent reduction in cost-of-living increases to benefits for working age military retirees.

But speaking to wounded warriors at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, Hagel said the problem would be "fixed" in Congress before the cuts take effect in December next year.

"Let me assure you that all disabled . . . will be exempt from any adjustments in the budget growth to benefits," he said. "We’ve got two years to fix that particular problem. It will be fixed.

"We’re not going to do anything that would inhibit the continued progress of this institution. We’re going to continue to make the kind of resource commitments that are required."

But Hagel suggested that the cost-of-living cuts for military retirees in general might have to stand. "The current set of obligations we have — based on what projections are out into the future — is most likely unsustainable."

The one percent cut, which could cost retirees in general up to $124,000 in income, saves $6 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

During his meeting with the wounded soldiers, Hagel was asked, considering the worsening security problem in Iraq, whether he thought servicemen had made sacrifices in vain during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"In eight years we did accomplish what we set out to do," Hagel said. "If we analyzed what Iraq is today versus what Iraq was when we went into Iraq, it’s a different country.

"You all did what you were asked to do, and I think you did it as well as it could have been done . . . So I don’t agree with the analyses that lives were wasted at all. I don’t think that’s true, and I think it’s unfortunate that there are people out there saying that."

Stars and Stripes also noted that Hagel traveled to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., where he fielded a question on whether former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was right to criticize President Barack Obama in his book, "Duty, Memoirs of a Secretary at War," over his handling of the war in Afghanistan.

"I’ve never second-guessed motivations on why people do things," he said. "I think it’s up to each individual to make that judgment on his or her own."

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