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Military Pension Reform Should Be Left to Experts

March 24, 1985

Lester C. Thurow ("Military Pension System Should Be Replaced By Severance Pay, Bonuses," Viewpoint, Feb. 17), treats a very long-standing, complicated problem as would a self-appointed expert. What he suggests is unrealistic or already in effect. His solution is first, to have fighting and non-fighting specialties, second, early retirement only at the option of the armed services and third, if a person is asked to leave the services then give them severance pay.

I am speaking as a retired Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Navy, 25 years service, with 17 of them at sea. On sea duty my normal day was 14 to 16 hours. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays were just "another day" because watches had to be stood and readiness of the ship maintained. Months at a time away from home were standard. I joined the Navy in 1938 and saw all of World War II and the Korean war, at sea.

The three points presented by Thurow, are unrealistic:

First, even peacetime combat-type duty must be rotated with non-combat-type duty. That is to give the person time away from stress and to be with his family. If my 17 years of sea duty had not been tempered with 8 years shore duty I don't think I would have been a suitable officer to serve under.

Second, it is currently required that each enlisted man at completion of his enlistment must be recommended for reenlistment.

Third, if an enlisted person is not recommended for reenlistment and is forced to leave the service he receives no retirement pay or severance pay if he has not completed 19 years, six months.

A solution to the military retirement pay problem must be found and many people are working to solve it. I only wish that independent experts would research their subjects before presenting them to the public. LEO J. EARNER

Apple Valley

When Lester C. Thurow wrote about the military pension system, he must have known:

- That the job inventory and classification system already exists in the military establishment.

- That retirement has always been an operating option for the armed services.

- That the armed services already uses bonuses and "sweeteners" for those the military wants and "wishes to keep."

The article allows readers to conclude that jobs in the "fighting" specialties are not so identified or that such jobs even receive pay for their degree of hazard, exposure and skill level. Such jobs and pay involve hostile fire, flying, diving, submarine service, salvage duty, demolition, pressure chamber operation, parachuting and other fighting hazards. But more importantly, the government does not baseline retirement pay on these extra dollars, hence, "pay-as-you-go" prevails over "pay-thru-retirement" for military pensions.

The article also allows readers to conclude that only the individual determines the retirement opportunity.

Also, the article permits readers to believe that a different early-out bonus plan will best solve any military pension-cost concern. Such a suggestion is supreme oversimplification, even for an economist.

It the article was intended to be read only by those without the military experience, then I submit that they were misled. But if the article was meant for military and non-military alike, then Thurow lacks basic knowledge to suggest any reform of the military retirement system.

May I suggest that Thurow's interest in "restructuring" the military system consider:

- Changes that would allow retirement vesting rights be transferable between military and civilian sectors of occupation.

- Changes that would establish strict equality of rules for employment severeance, hence avoid differing regulations for behavior affecting pension rights.

- Changes that would acknowledge that base pay for computing military pensions excludes fixed amounts for clothing, dependents, quarters, hazard pay, medical service pay, subsistence, etc. which are not excluded from salary of non-military workers.

- Changes that provide equality for Social Security "offsets" to retirement computations.

- Changes that permit equality in benefit rights for survivors of retirees.

- Changes that do not limit employers in their freedom to exchange duty skills, branches of service, classifications, etc. without "injury" to any retirement benefit.

- Changes that permit re-entry into uniform service or civil employment without monetary-jeopardy of gained pension benefits.

- Changes that do not permit monetary pension ceilings to be imposed, whether by military or civilian organizations.

- Changes that ameliorate differences between mandatory military retirement and mandatory civil retirement systems without monetary disadvantage to either pension income.

- Changes that permit equal legal rights for any pensioner or claimant. J. ANDREW HINMAN

San Diego

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