|Rep. Paul Ryan trying to cut veterans' benefits|
America’s veterans are caught in the crossfire of the current budget war in Washington, and more political shrapnel is evidently on the way. We already know that disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will run out in as little as two weeks. But now there's chatter that even if the government shutdown ends before these VA funds deplete, disability benefits for our wounded warriors could be cut for next year.
Disabled veterans face a paltry 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) next year, but congressional Republicans, led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), are pushing to cut veterans’ benefits even more.
House Republicans and some Democrats want to change how inflation is calculated by adopting a so-called “chained consumer price index.” This chained CPI would lower benefits for disabled veterans.
“I find it incomprehensible that any serious person would believe that a 1.5 percent COLA is too generous and would want to enact a chained CPI which would make these COLA's even lower,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said this morning.
|Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders|
“This is an attack not only on disabled veterans and seniors but other people with disabilities. It cannot be allowed to succeed,” Sanders said.
The projected 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise next year would be among the smallest since automatic increases were adopted in 1975. A chained CPI would make substantial cuts to benefits of more than 3 million former warriors. The largest cuts would impact young, permanently disabled veterans who were seriously wounded in combat.
It would also impact more than 350,000 survivors who receive service-connected death benefits. Veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65.
This is all disturbingly reminiscent of a story I covered last year for The Daily Beast about a Senator who held up veterans' benefits to stage a cynical and lame political stunt. The then-unidentified Senate Republican, who I learned later was Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, opted to place a secret hold, for months, on a routine bill for a COLA increase for military veterans and surviving spouses.
That action was just a foreshadowing of what some members of this Congress are obviously willing to do to make their point.
Paul Sullivan, a respected veteran advocate who now works at Bergmann & Moore, a law firm that represents disabled veterans, told me last year, “Veterans already jump through enough hoops to obtain disability benefits. Delaying what should be an automatic process increases uncertainty in the lives of our veterans, and that is wrong.”
The short-lived hold last year came just one day after Senate Republicans blocked passage of the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012, which would have established a $1 billion program putting veterans to work on federal lands and in local police and fire departments.
No telling yet just how severe an impact this current budget impasse will have on veterans, but it is realistic to expect substantial cuts in veterans’ benefits. And this is inexcusable.