MOAA Members Storm Capitol Hill, Fight for Servicemembers’ Pay and Benefits

MOAA Members Storm Capitol Hill, Fight for Servicemembers’ Pay and Benefits

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, greets Army Lt. Col. Juan Crockett and Col E.J. Vincent, president of the Acadiana Chapter. (Photo by Mike Morones)

The Military Officers Association of America descended on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, with members flooding the offices of every senator and representative, all with a unified message: Action must be taken to protect servicemembers' pay and benefits. And further, a wrong must be corrected for the 200,000-plus servicemembers currently being denied retirement pay due to injury or illness. 

“MOAA members spent Wednesday calling for important legislative actions to benefit servicemembers, veterans and spouses. We clearly made a statement as 150 MOAA members fought for the 200,000-plus Chapter 61 retirees, the president's 2.6 percent pay raise for 2019 and for further protection for military pay and benefits,” said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret). “But Storming's true impact will be realized in the weeks to come, as MOAA's government relations staff continues to work with members of Congress to make these critical actions a reality.”

Army Maj. Patrick DeForest and his wife Jen met with leadership from their home state of Illinois.

“I am proud to support all members of the uniform services and speak for them when they aren't able to,” DeForest said, a sentiment shared by many members of MOAA who spent hours meeting with members of Congress and their staffs. 

“The goals of MOAA must be kept at the forefront of legislators as much as possible,” said Col. Jim Cowan, USAF (Ret), a Vietnam veteran and member of the Black Hills Chapter of South Dakota.

During Storming the Hill 2018, MOAA members advocated on two primary issues.

1) Maintaining military pay and benefits in order to recruit and retain an all-volunteer force. MOAA supports maintaining the military pay and benefits essential to recruiting and retaining the high-quality all-volunteer force needed to meet national security and warfighting requirements now and in the future. The president's proposed 2.6-percent pay raise, as aligned with the Employment Cost Index (ECI), is the largest in nine years, but still just keeps pace with private-sector wage growth for this upcoming fiscal year, leaving the military behind civilian wage growth by, coincidentally, the same margin - 2.6 percent. The only way to close this cumulative gap is to raise military pay above the ECI, as Congress did between 2000 and 2010.

Click here to read more.

2) Ending reduced pay for Chapter 61 retirees. Chapter 61 retirees have been medically retired prior to reaching a 20-year service career with a disability rating of 30 percent or greater. The term “Chapter 61” comes from the corresponding chapter in Title 10 U.S. Code that covers disability retirements.

MOAA's position is that all eligible servicemembers should receive both retirement and disability compensation, which is not the case for Chapter 61 retirees. MOAA supports H.R. 333, introduced by Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), which addresses both the Chapter 61 issue and MOAA's wider legislative priority regarding concurrent receipt.

Click here for more information on Chapter 61 retiree pay.

Members highlighted these issues in simple, yet bold terms.

“It's like putting an exclamation point on a sentence,” explained Lt. Col. Chris Burnham, USAF (Ret), a MOAA board member. “We don't sell a whole story, but we bring attention to it. After hearing the story, the staffs will call MOAA's government relations team and say 'I want to know more.' ”

MOAA members also provided each congressional office with important facts and a call to end the Survivor Benefit Plan-Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset, commonly referred to as the “Widow's Tax.” Click here to read more about this unfair policy.

The storming teams included a number of surviving spouses, who continue to serve as staunch advocates for MOAA's goals.

“Whatever mission we're storming on, I'm in agreement with it,” said Sharon DeVaney, a surviving Air Force spouse, who has now participated in six storming events.

“I believe in all of this,” DeVaney said, as she hiked across the Hill on Wednesday to her next meeting. 

Col. Andrew Gothreau, USA (Ret), the President of the Indiana Council of Chapters, brought his granddaughter to storming this year.  Amelia Newett, an 18-year-old college student at Johns Hopkins University, said she enjoyed watching her grandfather navigate Capitol Hill.

“It's an environment I've never seen him in,” she said. “It's a good opportunity to have conversations with him and share different perspectives.”