Monday, October 14, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Congress Trying to Cut Future Benefits for Disabled Veterans

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.

12 comments:

  1. Jamie;
    Great post, as usual. Your last line says it all. "And this is inexcusable." What i find truly amazing is that the government can deny our wounded veterans their earned benefits, yet can continue to spend billions on food stamps and other unearned benefits. It seems that our values as a nation are exactly backward.

    John Cook

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    1. Thanks John. While I don't entirely agree that food stamps are unearned - they are for some but certainly not for all - in general I agree with and appreciate your comments.

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  2. But of course Chained CPI would not apply to Congressional pay or for their staffers.Perish the thought. How can one eke out a living on a paltry 120 K a year? Stolichnaya and Tanqueray do not come cheaply and Veterans should recognize that. Politics is thirsty work what with all that talking and posturing.

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    1. Well said. Maybe we lobby for a Stoli tax?

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  3. Hello,

    When I was in my early 20s, I was completely healthy physically and mentally. At that time, I probably would have thought that most disabled veterans could work to provide a living.

    Now that I have been hit with schizoaffective disorder and more severe Gulf War Illnesses, I have walked more than a mile in an ill person's shoes. I am now 100% schedular total and permanently disabled 1991 Gulf War veteran even though I have two STEM degrees: chemical engineering and biological sciences. My tremors can be so severe that I cannot read my own hand writing, which is important in any regulated industry. I have other psychological and medical problems as well that keep me from working at any job.

    If congressional members had to literally walk more than a mile in a disabled person's shoes, he or she might realize that we are suffering enough.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this, Chris. My thoughts are with you. Stay strong, keep fighting. And thanks, sincerely, for your service to our country.

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    2. Jamie,

      Thank you for your service too! You do so much for us.

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  4. Jamie...good piece. I think we should give all disabled vets a 10% raise and full college tuition for all of their dependents. It could be payed for by identifying the 10% of people who should not be receiving food stamps, WIC, etc. Not at all saying all people who receive those freebies are cheating the system but you can pretty well bet at least 10% are. I see people using food stamps all the time while talking on their apple iPhone and buying cigarettes.

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  5. The short-lived hold last year came just one day after Senate Republicans blocked passage of the dvsatu.com

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  6. Do not cut benefits for permanently disabled veterans!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  7. I am also a disabled vet injured during Desert Storm. Since I have had 7 head surgeries have hydrocephalus and 2 ventricular peritoneal shunts. My neurosurgeon and neuropsychologist placed me on permanent disability. These are the only incomes I have. I can barely make rent as it is. I can't drive and I have to pay for transportation to my medical rehab facility 2x week which is 80 miles away. My landlord wants to raise my rent. All I can say at this point is not to advise anyone not to join the military as I was told that I would be taken care of but this is not the case.

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