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Lawmaker renews fight for automatic veterans COLA

Apr. 16, 2013 - 04:09PM   |  
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A House subcommittee chairman has renewed his efforts to provide automatic cost-of-living adjustments for veterans so they don’t have to wait for Congress to act.

Last year, Congress postponed action on the COLA bill until November, and the bill granting a 1.7 percent increase effective Dec. 1 was not signed into law until Nov. 27, said Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s disability assistance and memorial affairs panel.

“This situation was unacceptable and unfair to our veterans,” Runyan said at a Tuesday hearing of his subcommittee that focused on pending legislation.

This is a bipartisan effort. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., the disability panel’s ranking Democrat, is a cosponsor of HR 570, the American Heroes COLA Act, which would treat veterans benefits the same as Social Security and military and federal retired pay, which automatically adjust each year based on changes in consumer prices.

The bill would apply to veterans’ disability and survivor benefits and to pensions for low-income veterans.

Similar Runyon-sponsored legislation passed the House of Representatives last year but was never taken up by the Senate.

Veterans’ groups generally support the bill, but there are some objections.

Disabled American Veterans opposes the bill because it includes a provision requiring COLA increases to continue to be rounded down to the next lower dollar, said Jeffrey Hall, DAV’s assistant national legislative director.

Veterans of Foreign Wars also opposes rounding down, and is also reluctant to sign on to any COLA-related bill that doesn’t address a controversial proposal to change how cost-of-living adjustments are calculated.

President Obama has proposed a change that would reduce annual COLAs by about 0.3 percent by revising how the Consumer Price Index tracks the cost of goods and services, which Raymond Kelley, VFW’s national legislative service director, said is cause for concern.

The Veterans Affairs Department supports the bill and notes that the practice of rounding down COLAs will save $41.6 million in fiscal 2014 and $2.6 billion over 10 years, according to David McLenachen, director of VA’s pension and fiduciary service, who represented VA at the hearing.

A separate Runyan bill, HR 569, would provide a veterans’ COLA on Dec. 1, 2013, that matches the annual increase in Social Security, a measure that would take effect only if it passes the House and Senate. The COLA for 2013 has not yet been calculated, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects a 2 percent increase.

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