WASHINGTON -- A military spending bill passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday with a provision intact that would pay the pensions of about two dozen elderly members of the World War II-era Alaska Territorial Guard.
The White House last month had expressed disapproval of the pensions; the administration's comments were part of a strongly worded message to Congress outlining a number of other presidential priorities or concerns about the military spending bill, including proposed cuts in funding for the war in Afghanistan.
The White House said 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."
But the White House objections to the pensions drew swift rebuke from the state's two senators, Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich, who co-sponsored the pension fix.
The problem began when the U.S. Army decided this year it would no longer count service in the Guard when it calculates the military's 20-year minimum for retirement pay -- although the service still counts for military benefits. As a result, those former Alaska Territorial guardsman eligible for pensions saw them decreased in January. In response, state lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year to fill the pay gap until Congress made a permanent fix.
The federal fix proposed by Begich and Murkowski allows the former Guard members to count their service in the Alaska Territorial Guard as part of active military duty, and it reinstates the pension payments.
The Guardsmen were among those assigned to protect Alaska from the Japanese during World War II. 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 in question have enough other military service to reach the 20-year minimum for retirement pay.