Veterans groups, AARP wage campaign against 'chained CPI'

By PAUL J. NYDEN | The Charleston (W.V.) Gazette | Published: February 22, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As national politicians continue debating the federal budget and possible severe budget cuts, the AARP is criticizing the negative impact the proposed "chained Consumer Price Index" would have on compensation and pensions paid to West Virginia's veterans.

The "chained CPI" would change how cost-of-living adjustments are calculated for veterans' compensation and Social Security, cutting amounts veterans would receive every year. Over time, the cuts would have the biggest impacts on the oldest veterans and those with severe disabilities.

AARP said it is joining more than a dozen veterans groups opposing the "chained CPI," including Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans. 

West Virginia's AARP chapter estimates Mountain State veterans would lose more than $103 million over the next 10 years if the "chained CPI" is included in legislation that is then passed.

"West Virginia's veterans and their families deserve our support and thanks for their service and sacrifices, not cuts to the benefits they have earned and rely on," said Gaylene Miller, AARP's West Virginia state director.

"Adoption of the chained CPI would have a devastating effect on the financial well-being of our state's veterans, and we urge West Virginians to let their members of Congress know that imposing the chained CPI is unacceptable," Miller said Thursday.

President Obama has not backed the removal of "chained CPI" proposals from ongoing discussions about how to control federal deficits.

In February 2010, Obama created the Simpson-Bowles Commission to come up ideas to reduce the mounting federal deficit.

Erskine Bowles served as White House chief of staff under Democrat Bill Clinton. Alan Simpson was a Republican senator from Wyoming from 1979 to 1997.

Earlier this month, Bowles and Simpson released a new statement titled, "A Bipartisan Path Forward to Securing America's Future."

It urged Congress to "adopt chained CPI for indexing and achieve savings from programs from program integrity."

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., criticized the "chained CPI proposal" in a December column in "The Huffington Post."

That proposal, Grayson wrote, "substantially undermines the protection against inflation that Social Security recipients enjoy under current law. The existing cost of living adjustment (COLA) already understates actual increases in the cost of living; the chained CPI would exacerbate the problem."

In 2011, West Virginia was home to 178,000 veterans, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

Using data from the VA and Department of Defense, AARP calculated the adoption of the "chained CPI" would cost Mountain State veterans more than $103 million over a decade.

Nationally, 23 million disabled veterans and military retirees would see their Social Security compensation and benefits drop by $17 billion over 10 years.

Social Security benefits paid to retired and disabled veterans would shrink by larger amounts every year.

"Our nation's youngest veterans -- especially those who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan -- would face harmful cuts according to the Congressional Budget Office," the AARP added.

Replacing today's COLA formula with a "chained CPI" would mean 30-year-old veterans with severe disabilities would see their annual Social Security benefits drop by $1,425 when they reach 45, $2,341 at 55 and $3,231 at 65, AARP stated.

Randy Myers, president of AARP's West Virginia chapter, said, "As a veteran myself, I know that veterans understand sacrifice and the need for fiscal discipline. But promises have been made to our veterans who've sacrificed so much for our nation, and those promises must be kept."

Grayson wrote, "The political proponents of the chained CPI are hoping that you don't understand it. Because when you do understand it, you won't support it."


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