Groups Say COLA Bill Will Cost Disabled Vets

Five veterans' service organizations have opposed a bill sent to the House floor on Wednesday that would guarantee disabled veterans an annual cost of living adjustment immune to the type of Congressional holds that threatened last year's COLA.

The groups -- the American Legion, AMVETS, the Disabled American Veterans, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars -- supported the intent of the bill but said its formula for increases shortchanges vets over time because it requires any raise to be "rounded down" to the nearest dollar.

"Such reductions compound each year and over time have the effect of significantly eroding the true value of these benefits for disabled veterans, their families and survivors, many of whom rely heavily or solely on them as their only means of financial support," the groups told lawmakers.

Another concern is a provision linking veterans' COLAs to Social Security increases. This may also cost vets if plans to tie Social Security increases to a new Consumer Price Index formula succeed. That plan, dubbed "chained CPI," is a deficit reduction plan that would help shrink the deficit by shrinking COLAs for Social Security recipients.

But the veterans groups say deficit reduction should not be done at the expense of disabled vets.

"The DAV is very disappointed that this legislation was passed (by the committee)," DAV National Legislative Director Joe Violante said. "I was told after the hearing that the savings would be used to expand other programs."

He said it is unfortunate that "disabled veterans have to have money taken out of their pockets to expand or improve programs for other veterans. They were quick enough to send these men and women off to war off the books; they should be able to pay their disability off the books."

During the Wednesday hearing, Rep. Jon Runyon, R-NJ, said the legislation guarantees that future COLAs for disabled veterans will not be delayed by congressional politics.

"With passage of this bill, veterans will never again have to depend on congressional action to receive an increase," he said.

Runyon recalled that in 2012 a veterans' COLA bill was held up with a secret hold in the Senate.

"There was some question if the bill would pass and if veterans would receive their annual COLA. This situation, frankly, is and was unacceptable and unfair to veterans," Runyon said.

Though veterans groups were not able to get the legislation changed before the House committee voted on it Wednesday, they do have a key ally on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. There, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who chairs the panel, has already criticized chained CPI because it will adversely impact veterans and seniors, he said.

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