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Where Do Vets Stand on Pensions -- One Group Needs to Figure It Out

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In a new ad, Concerned Veterans for America thanks Republican Congressmen Tom Cotton and Mike Coffman for voting against the Paul Ryan-Patty Murray budget deal, because it slows the growth of government pensions by lower increases to the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). Those COLA adjustments effect some of the government's most important employees -- our men and women in uniform.

Now, that, in and of itself, isn't news. CVA was almost entirely funded by a Koch Brothers fundraising network in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive politics. That's their right, and I certainly don't begrudge any group who wants to take Koch Brothers money.

It's no secret that the Koch Brothers almost singular goal is to oppose anything President Obama is for, and oppose any Republican attempts to compromise with Democrats. Thus, they were against the budget deal. CVA apparently agrees. Ho hum.

What is noteworthy, however, is that CVA, while running these ads to ostensibly protect troops' pensions, is running around Capitol Hill promoting privatization of those pensions into 401(k)s, which, for many troops, would result in a cut to their retirement pay.

According to CVA's head, Pete Hegseth, it's about "getting our fiscal house in order."

Of course, privatization of pensions and Social Security has long been a cause célèbre, of sorts, for the right. They often tout its ability to reduce government spending on retirement (something that is debatable). But, more often than not, they ignore that privatization of Federal pensions and Social Security would amount to a cut in benefits, depending on when a person may be retiring.

When the market is good, people could do well. When the market is bad, nest eggs for tens of thousands of troops and veterans could be wiped away in an instant. Those who retire at those times would be clear losers.

Further, and maybe more importantly, unlike any other career, the average length of a military career is 20 years. During that time, troops and their families move place to place, often never buying a house, and with it, equity. When their military career ends, they often start at ground zero, in terms of setting up their future, where others have a 20-year head start. A 401(k), for those military families, doesn't have time to mature to the point they may need it to, at the end of those 20 years.

So, what Federal pensions (and Social Security) provide is a greater stability, that in a good market era, or bad market era, you're going to get a stable amount. For military, it means having a pension that puts you on sound financial footing, at the time you retire from service. Privatize those pensions, and the retirement of troops and others becomes, in the words of Forrest Gump, like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you're going to get.

That takes us back to the ad. CVA thanks Representatives Cotton and Coffman for voting against a budget deal that rolls back COLA increases for many troops, all while promoting a plan that would actually cut the actual retirement pay for many troops.

To me, that just doesn't meet a basic test of logic. Either Tom Cotton and Mike Coffman were right to protect pensions, and thus privatizing and destabilizing those pensions is wrong, or the Congressmen weren't "getting our fiscal house in order" by voting against a slowdown of the COLA's rate of growth, and shouldn't be cheered.

If CVA wants to protect pensions, vets will be right there with them. But when the coda to that argument is the complete opposite -- "And let's privatize your pension" -- that's where you lose many troops who are depending on a stable retirement.

In that sense, CVA has to make up its mind about what it is for, before it starts running ads thanking any Congressman or Senator. When they do, we'll all be interested in hearing what they decide.