Bill lets war duty cut retirement age

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ATLANTA - Members of the National Guard and Reserves would get credit for war-time duty to allow them to earn an earlier retirement under a bill unveiled Monday by U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, introduced the bill two years ago, but it stalled because of its cost. He has now trimmed the projected cost to $400 million over the next five years.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, introduced the bill two years ago, but it stalled because of its cost. He has now trimmed the projected cost to $400 million over the next five years.

The Georgia Republican said he's sponsoring the bill as a way to make retirement benefits more like the active military for the 500,000 members of the Guard and Reserves who have been called to service since Sept. 11, 2001.

Members of the "regular" military can retire after 20 years of service, regardless of age. Guard and Reserve members must wait until age 60 to qualify for their pension at half pay and medical coverage.

Mr. Chambliss' bill would reduce the Guard and Reserve retirement age by three months for every 90 days of active duty to a maximum of 10 years, making the earliest possible retirement with full benefits at age 50.

He said his bill would acknowledge the increased reliance in recent years on part-time troops. With nearly half the U.S. forces serving in the Middle East coming from the Guard and Reserves, the role has shifted from merely supplementing in case of a World War II-style confrontation to being an integral part of America's defenses.

In Georgia, for example, 10,000 members of the National Guard have been called to serve in Iraq.

Georgia Guard commander Lt. Gen. David Poythress said sweetening the retirement will help him persuade veterans with the most training and experience to stick around.

"It will have an effect on people who are in mid-career or who are at the peak of their career who will be encouraged to stay beyond, say, 20 years, continue serving in expectation that they will receive this benefit," he said.

Mr. Chambliss introduced the bill as unfinished business from his first two years in the Senate when he led the personnel subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee in 2003-04. His goal then was to equalize the benefits for Guard and Reserve members and the regular military.

His proposal to reduce the retirement age stalled because of its projected cost. He's now whittled it down to an estimated cost of $400 million over the next five years. "We have pared the bill back. We have massaged the bill. We've worked with these groups ... to try to come up with a bill that is meaningful but at the same time is affordable," Mr. Chambliss said. "Once we're able to get this bill passed, then I think we will see a gradual expansion of the benefits from a retirement standpoint thereafter."

One of those who wants to see the bill pass is Army Maj. Ray Tillery, who left the regular military in 1998 to practice law in Atlanta but volunteered to return to active duty after the terrorist attacks in 2001.

"I always joked that I'd never go back into the Army unless they came across the Chattahoochee (River)," he said. Still, his return to service was a burden on his firm and kept him from amassing retirement savings there.

"My firm said this was a good way to take care of my retirement," he said.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com


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