Advocates protest lowering of COLA for wounded vets
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 19, 2012
WASHINGTON – Veterans groups say they’re willing to help balance the federal budget, but not if it means trimming disability benefits for wounded servicemembers.
A platoon of veterans advocates joined the incoming chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday to protest proposals to lower cost of living adjustments for senior citizens, wounded veterans and their dependants, saying the move unfairly punishes those who have sacrificed much for this country.
“We are here today to tell the White House and Congress, ‘Do not balance the budget on the backs of disabled veterans who have lost their arms, legs and eyesight defending our country,’” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.
The White House and Republican leaders have voiced support for altering how the federal government adjusts its wage inflation estimates, thereby lowering how much of a cost of living increase for recipients of Social Security and disability benefits.
The proposal could save more than $100 billion over the next decade, and has become a key stepping stone in efforts to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff -- severe automatic defense budget cuts and expiring tax breaks set to kick in early next month.
The lower inflation estimates would trim just a few hundred dollars from disabled veterans’ benefits payouts annually, but veterans groups say that’s not the only hit those individuals would see. Most veterans receiving disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs also receive Social Security disability, which could see a drop of several hundred dollars more each year.
“We’ve already seen cuts in how veterans benefits are calculated, we’ve seen rounding down of those benefits,” said Ray Kelley, legislative director at the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “To think it’s OK to take away a little more of that is unconscionable.”
The American Association of Retired People and a number of senior citizens advocates have spoken out in opposition to the idea.