Senate Delay Could Mean Late COLAs For Veterans

Via Army Times:

The Senate was unable to pass the bill that would provide a cost-of-living adjustment in veterans’ compensation before Congress left town on Sept. 22 for a six-week pre-election break, raising the possibility that the payment increases could be late.

The postponed bill would provide almost 4 million veterans and survivors the same Dec. 1 percentage increase going to Social Security and retired pay for the military and federal civilians. The increase is expected to be at least 1.3 percent.

While Social Security and government retired pay increases are automatic, veterans’ compensation rises only if Congress approves an increase and the president signs it into law. Since 1983, Congress has never failed to give veterans the same increase as other federal beneficiaries, although the annual bills have been delayed before.

The Veterans Affairs Department said Thursday in a statement it could not guarantee January checks would include the increase unless it is passed by Congress by Nov. 13, which happens to be the first day of scheduled legislative business when lawmakers return after the Nov. 6 elections.

“Should Congress pass the COLA after that date, VA would have to make complex programming changes to the system that could not be accomplished in time to pay the COLA increase on January 1,” the statement says. “Consequently, the … increase would have to be paid retroactively.”

VA has waited longer than that in the past. In 2005, the veterans’ COLA wasn’t signed into law until Nov. 22. In 2003, the measure wasn’t signed by the president until Dec. 3. VA officials said these late bills required special processing and retroactive payments.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the veterans’ committee chairwoman, fired a broadside against Republicans for blocking a bill just a week after Senate Republicans also blocked action on the Veterans’ Job Corps Act.

Part of the blame for the delay is that the Senate waited so long to pass the bill. The House of Representatives passed a COLA for veterans on July 9 on a 369-0 vote. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, said the early vote was held so veterans wouldn’t have to worry about their increase “being held up in a political tug-of-war.”

A political tug-of-war war is exactly what Murray says happened when an unidentified Republican objected to passing the bill by voice vote before Congress left town for the elections. Under Senate procedures, any senator is allowed to put an anonymous hold on any bill. Murray said the objection came from the Republican side of the Senate, something confirmed by the offices of several Republican senators who declined to point fingers at who was behind the hold.

Congress has resisted making the veterans’ COLA automatic because passing the measure each year gives lawmakers a way to tout their support for veterans in their reelection campaigns.

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