Twenty Years of Service

The Politics of Military Pension Policy and the Long Road to Reform

Brandon J. Archuleta

Military pension policies are as old as the republic itself and reside at the intersection of American social, economic, and defense policy. But as the nation’s social and economic circumstances underwent dramatic changes over the last half-century, military pension policy remained static, stuck in the personnel and retirement model of the industrial age. This book examines why.

Integrating policy history, theory, and practice, Twenty Years of Service provides the most comprehensive examination of US military pension policy in a generation. Brandon J. Archuleta sets the stage with an exploration of the rise, evolution, and transformation of the veterans’ policy subsystem from the American Revolution through World War II. The ensuing theoretical overview explains how the military personnel policy subsystem achieved the autonomy it enjoyed from 1948 to 2018; it also offers a new perspective on autonomous policy subsystems in general, which helps to account for the long-term pension policy stasis. In practical terms, Archuleta explores the role of the successful 2015 Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission as an institutional venue for policy change during the congressional budget battles of the 2010s.

Twenty Years of Service is a must-read for anyone interested in US military pensions. Archuleta weaves together policy subsystems theory, historical analysis, and interviews to explain the problems with the longstanding pension regime, why that regime was left mostly intact for decades, and how it was finally changed. This terrific book not only advances our understanding of the politics of military pensions—it also sheds light on policy subsystems more generally.”

—Sarah F. Anzia, Michelle J. Schwartz Associate Professor of Public Policy and associate professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

“Archuleta provides policy-watchers with a clear and lucid analysis of the rare transformation of an otherwise impermeable policy subsystem, the military retirement pension system in the United States. By leveraging interviews with scores of key players and analysts, Twenty Years of Service illuminates the recent 2015 reforms of the famously rigid policy arena hitherto tucked between veterans’ interest groups, a compliant bureaucracy, and the germane congressional committees. The book helps us better understand how policy reforms and innovation proceed when budgetary stresses preclude the status quo despite a sclerotic and long history.”

—Jeremy Teigen, professor of political science, Ramapo College of New Jersey

Through extensive archival research, illustrative case studies, and field interviews with Pentagon bureaucrats, congressional staffers, veterans’ lobbyists, defense scholars, and journalists, Twenty Years of Service brings the policymaking process to life. Its insights will prove invaluable to policy scholars and defense practitioners alike.

About the Author

Brandon J. Archuleta is an active duty US Army officer and recipient of the Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship for academic year 2020-2021. A veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his previous assignments include strategic planner in the Army War Plans Division at the Pentagon and assistant professor of American politics at the US Military Academy at West Point.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series