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Gillibrand, Owens support restoration of military retiree benefits

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In the wake of cuts in cost-of -living adjustments for younger military retirees, momentum has formed in Congress to restore them.

Among those in favor of such a restoration are Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Rep. William L. Owens.

Sen. Gillibrand said she was “gravely concerned” when the cuts were included in the budget deal that passed in January.

“Anyone who looked at this deal said it was the wrong decision,” she said.

The budget agreement reduced those adjustments by 1 percent annually once a service member retires until that retiree reaches age 62. The cuts are scheduled to go into effect in December 2015.

Mr. Owens said he was sure that Congress could find another source of money to offset the cost of restoring those benefits.

“We should be able to find some ways to solve this,” he said.

Sen. Gillibrand said the cost of living adjustment cuts reflect the difficulty in reducing spending overall. However, she said, the cuts should reflect the country’s priorities, which she said don’t include cutting veterans’ benefits.

“This is not where we should be balancing our budgets,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “I think it’s wrong, I think it’s immoral, I think we have to change it.”

A Pentagon report about veteran benefits is scheduled for release next February, and officials there have called for a delay in a decision on retirement until that time. Though the cut also initially included medical retirees, those cuts have since been rolled back.

Both Sen. Gillibrand and Mr. Owens said they have received complaints from constituents about the change.

Sen. Gillibrand said she was expecting lawmakers to focus on the issue during the next few weeks. Already, she said, she was encouraged by an expansive veterans bill presented by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

One part of the change is improving the management of care for veterans.

Given the amount of time until the cost-of-living adjustment change goes into effect, Mr. Owens asked for patience for lawmakers to get a deal in place and for constituents to reach out to him with their concerns about the changes.

Sen. Gillibrand said it’s important for lawmakers to protect the benefits already in place for service members and retirees.

“When men and women are asked to serve their country, they’re asked to serve in every respect,” she said. “We owe it to them to honor the deals we made with them, and to protect them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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