Veterans always get the same annual cost-of-living increase as Social Security recipients. But there’s no guarantee that will continue.
That’s why lawmakers are again pushing for new legislation that would permanently tie together the two rate increases, and thus avoiding a potential payout hiccup if congressional politics stalls what is normally routine business.
Earlier this month, House lawmakers adopted the so-called “American Heroes COLA Act,” which would provide an automatic cost-of-living adjust for veterans benefits such as disability compensation, payouts for dependents, and other Veterans Affairs living allowances.
Under current law, those annual increases are automatic for Social Security benefits, determined by the executive branch without intervention from Congress. But veterans benefits fall into a different category, one that requires lawmaker intervention each year to become law.
“The current process leaves veterans and their families, who depend on these benefits to make ends meet, in limbo until Washington actually passes legislation,” said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Louisiana Republican. This legislation would "end this uncertainty and … enable VA beneficiaries to better plan for their financial future.”
The current process hasn’t resulted in problematic cost-of-living adjustments for veterans. In the last few decades, only one year — 2000 — saw uneven increases for Social Security recipients and veterans, and that came as a result of a rounding difference between the two rates.
But Abraham and other lawmakers point out that congressional infighting in recent years has sidelined other legislation assumed routine, including the budget fights which resulted in the 2013 partial government shutdown.
By making the veteran benefits increases automatic, that political turmoil is no longer an obstacle.
Veterans groups have supported similar efforts in the past, and offered backing for ways to make the COLA process simpler for veterans’ families. But proposals to solve the problem have stalled over questions about how to tie the rates together or whether to use other COLA calculations for veterans benefits.
Officials from the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees have been discussing an omnibus veterans reform measure to bring before both chambers later this spring, with the COLA fix among the issues under consideration.
Last year, neither veterans nor Social Security recipients saw an increase in their payouts, with federal officials citing a drop in consumer prices as evidence that an increase was not needed.
The bill would not affect adjustments for military retirement pay, which are calculated through other methods.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.