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Begich Succeeds in Keeping ATG Benefits in Defense Authorization Act

Bill moves to the Senate floor with ATG language, support for Locality Pay

Successfully making the case that members of Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG) who defended Alaska and the interests of the United States during World War II earned and deserve retirement pay, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich announced Oct. 7 the language supporting the retirement benefits is part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 as it moves to the Senate floor for a final vote.

Working with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Begich succeeded in keeping language supporting the benefits in the bill after a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) came out from the Obama administration late last month opposing the benefits.

"I am pleased and proud that my colleagues in the Senate recognize the service of the ATG members who defended this country and deserve the same recognition and compensation as those on active duty," Begich said. "I am hopeful as this moves to a final vote and then onto the president, we can have this issue fixed and restore the benefits to these brave Alaskans."

In 2000, Congress passed a law issuing discharge certificates to ATG members and counting their service toward retirement credit. In January of this year, the payments abruptly ended to the roughly two dozen ATG members who are still alive, after the Department of Defense determined the 2000 law had been misinterpreted.

Sens. Begich and Murkowski introduced a bill providing for the pensions to be restored to the ATG members, but were also successful in getting the language into the Defense Authorization Act. Concern arose after the SAP came out questioning the pensions and stating ATG service was state service and therefore not eligible for computation of retired pay.

This morning, Begich served on a joint House-Senate conference committee, for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, where he successfully advocated for the inclusion of the ATG language. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Begich delivered a speech on the Senate floor last week re-stating the case for the ATG benefits.  The legislation is now expected to receive approval on the floor of both the House and Senate sending the legislation to the president. The president's signature of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, in current form, would provide a restoration of benefits for ATG members.

Additionally, the Act includes language supporting locality pay for federal workers in Alaska. Begich co-sponsored The Non-Foreign Area Retirement Equity Assurance Act, allowing for the gradual transition to locality pay from cost of living allowance (COLA) increases.

Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. territories currently receive untaxed COLA that does not count toward retirement instead of the locality pay that federal employees in all other states receive. As a result, many citizens of Alaska, Hawaii and the territories move back to the mainland in the last three years of their employment to boost their pensions.

"This is an issue of basic fairness and impacts the ability to retain qualified federal workers in these states and the territories," Begich said. "Moving to locality pay will be hugely important to these employees who have been waiting for equity in the law."

Additionally the Act includes a 3.4 percent across-the-board pay increase for service men and women, including the extension of the stop-loss pay through June 2011.

"Our military men and women are being asked to defense our country and promote democracy all around this globe," Begich said. "Giving them a decent wage as well as providing for the best equipment and resources is the least we can do as they are put in harm's way every day."

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