Fact Check: Members of Congress Do NOT Receive Full-Pay Retirement After Serving One Term

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: Members of Congress Do NOT Receive Full-Pay Retirement After Serving One Term Not full pay

Do members of Congress receive a full-pay retirement after serving one term? No, that's not true. Regardless of length of service, federal law limits the starting payout to a member of Congress to no more than 80% of his or her final salary. U.S. senators, elected to six-year terms, and representatives, with two-year terms, must serve at least five years before becoming eligible for a federal pension.

The claim, appeared on Facebook as a post (archived here) where it was published April 12, 2020:

No one has been able to explain to me why young men and women who serve in the U.S. military for 20 years, risking their lives protecting freedom, and only get 50% of their base pay. While politicians hold their political positions in the safe confines of the capital, protected by these same men and women, and receive full pay retirement after serving 1 term."

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Jul 1 17:56:05 2020 UTC)

The claim that members of Congress get 100% of their salary is debunked by an August 8, 2019, report by the Congressional Research Service:
...Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at the age of 62 if they have completed at least 5 years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on length of service (as measured in months) and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.
The Facebook post's claim about military pensions is mostly correct, according to a July 12, 2019, report by the Congressional Research Service:
Active component personnel are eligible for retirement (i.e., vested) after completing 20 years of service (YOS). Reserve personnel are eligible after 20 years of creditable service based on a points system, but do not typically begin to draw retirement pay until age 60. Finally, those with a disability retirement do not need to have served 20 years to be eligible for retired pay; however, they must have been found unqualified for further service due to a permanent, stable disability.
According to the Department of Defense pension webpage, military pensions depend on which pension plans were available during the term of service and are generally calculated based on length of service and highest or final rate of pay and some do receive 50% of base pay after 20 years' service.

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  Dean Miller

Lead Stories staff writer Dean Miller has edited daily and weekly newspapers, worked as a reporter for more than a decade and is co-author of two non-fiction books. After a one-year Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy for six years. As Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting, a dual licensee, he oversaw radio, TV and print journalists, and documentary producers. He moved west to teach journalism at Western Washington University, edit The Port Townsend Leader and write the twice-weekly Save The Free Press column for the Seattle Times. Miller won the 2007 national Mirror Award for news industry coverage and he led the team that won the 2005 Scripps Howard first amendment prize. 

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