Letter Re: Long Term Public Employee Pension Obligations

Dear Editor:
First off, as a Federal Law Enforcement Officer, a Senior Patrol Agent in the United States Border Patrol, I am getting tired of being vilified by the media and American public for picking a career that has a somewhat decent retirement system. I’m tired of my Union being vilified. In fact, I’m just tired of being vilified in general. It seems like most people are just suffering from sour grapes for not having picked a career that has a somewhat decent retirement system. Why should we be punished for taking a job that offered this retirement? Shouldn’t this be directed at the people in charge that created this benefit? I worked in a job with a mandatory retirement of 57. I am a union officer but we cannot bargain for wages or retirement. Our wages and retirement are set by congress because we are Federal Law Enforcement.

I work 50 hours a week minimum. That is our standard work week. I work outside in all types of weather conditions. My last station was in south Texas. During the summer months, the temperature was always over 100 degrees with 70-90% humidity. For at least 30 of those days, the temp was over 110 with the same humidity. I’ve been rained on, hailed on, spent hours in the hot sun and hours in the freezing cold. Bitten up by bugs, snakes and torn up by the local plants. Ridden in vehicles in 100+ degree heat with no working air conditioning for hours in a day. I have been shot at, cut and been in fights for my life, including one on a moving train. This is the life I chose. I chose this life to make where I live safe for my family and friends and to defend our way of life.

Our retirement system is the way it is because we burn out so fast. By the time we are able to retire we are usually so torn up from the job we cannot do another job. I’ve lost 70% of my hearing in my left ear, (not from shooting), and 30% in my right. I’ve had surgery to repair a damaged joint which will never be the same, but I still do the job. I wake up with aches and pains in all my joints from having spent years walking over uneven ground and up and down hills, but as I said, I chose this career.

I contribute 3% of my salary to my government retirement. Not much you say, but in the civilian corporate world, most companies provide 100% of the employees’ retirement without employee contribution. To make sure I have a decent retirement, I contribute to a voluntary retirement system. I contribute 18% of my salary, (set by IRS law), to this and it is invested in different markets as I designate. I also spent seven years active duty Army. This time will count towards my retirement, but I have to "buy" this time. I will retire with 27 years of active federal service.

I do all this so I can retire with 47% of my averaged, highest three years of salary. When I hit mandatory retirement, my middle child will be 19, and my youngest will be 13. This gives me a four person household, (my middle son can stay at home while he is in college). My retirement will only be $15,000 a year above the poverty level for a family of four. Don’t forget though, I still have to maintain health insurance because I don’t qualify for Medicaid, Medicare or Obama care or I will have to pay an IRS penalty. Also, the average life span for a retired Law Enforcement Officer is very short. So, I have to make sure that my wife is taken care. To do this, I have to take a $500 per month cut in my retirement benefits to provide survivor benefits. This way, if I die, my wife will get half of what I was getting in retirement pay. So my $35,000 a year retirement just went to $29,000. Not bad you say. How about all the doctor bills because my joints are all chewed up and need replacing or the health effects I suffer from being exposed to bacteria and viruses that come with doing this job. That $700 a month Cadillac insurance program that the media says I have only pays about half of what that is going to cost. But again, I chose this life.

Remember folks, when you paint a picture with a broad brush, you tend to smear the small details. In this case, when you smear government workers in general, you smear those of us that put our lives on the line day after day, and we do it all for a pittance. We do it for ourselves, we do it because of our families, we do it for our friends and we do it for our ideals and beliefs.

We do it because it is the right thing to do and we do it because no one else will. – T.R.