WASHINGTON -- In a strongly worded message to Congress outlining its priorities for a military spending bill, the Obama administration today said it disapproved of including money for pensions for 26 elderly members of the World War II-era Alaska Territorial Guard.
The Guardsmen are among those assigned to protect Alaska from the Japanese during World War II.
The Army decided this year to no longer count service in the Guard in calculating the military's 20-year minimum for retirement pay, although it still counts for military benefits. As a result, their pensions were decreased in January.
An estimated 300 members are still living from the original 6,600-member unit formed in 1942 to protect Alaska, then a territory, from attack. The 26 men have enough other military service to reach the 20-year minimum for retirement pay but would lose it if the Territorial Guard service doesn't count.
A Senate military spending bill up for a vote in the Senate allows the former Guard members count their service as part of active military duty, and it reinstates the payments.
State lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year to fill the pay gap until Congress made a permanent fix, but the White House said Friday it didn't think it was "appropriate to establish a precedent of treating service performed by a state employee as active duty for purposes of the computation of retired pay."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who along with Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, sponsored the fix, called the administration move "deeply disappointing, bordering on insensitive." The legislation honors 26 elderly Native people who are the few remaining survivors of a military unit that served the country with valor, Murkowski said.
"The administration's justification, which is that the legislation will set the precedent of treating service as a state employee as federal service, defies logic and history," she said in a statement. "Sixty-two years after the Territorial Guard was disbanded, the Obama administration minimizes the contribution of this gallant unit to America's success in World War II by calling its service 'state service.' "