Let me begin by thanking the American Legion; the Veterans of Foreign Wars; the Disabled American Veterans; the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; the Paralyzed Veterans of America; the Blinded Veterans Association; and the many other veterans’ organizations who are here this morning and who have spoken out on this issue. Some of the full statements from the veterans’ organizations are available here today.
We are here today to tell the White House and the leadership in Congress: do not balance the budget on the backs of disabled veterans who have lost their arms, legs, and eyesight defending our country.
Do not balance the budget on the backs of the men and women who have already sacrificed for us in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Do not balance the budget on the backs of the wives, husbands, and children of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
And, do not balance the budget on the backs of the men and women who served our country in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and other conflicts by cutting Social Security benefits.
Do not adopt the so-called chained-CPI.
My Republican friends and some Democrats have said that lowering Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLAs) through the adoption of a chained-CPI would be a “minor tweak” in benefits.
But, let’s be clear: for millions of disabled veterans and seniors living on fixed incomes, the chained CPI is not a minor tweak. It is a significant benefit cut that will make it harder for permanently disabled veterans and the elderly to feed their families, heat their homes, pay for their prescription drugs, and make ends meet. This misguided proposal must be vigorously opposed.
Supporters of the chained-CPI want the American people to believe that the COLAs that disabled veterans, senior citizens, and the surviving spouses and children who have lost loved ones in combat are too generous.
That is simply not true. In two out of the last three years, disabled veterans and senior citizens did not receive any COLA. And, next year’s COLA of 1.7% is one of the lowest ever. Lowering COLAs even further through the adoption of a chained-CPI would be an absolute disaster.
This nation has made a commitment to our military and our veterans: if you get permanently disabled defending this country, if you get seriously wounded in battle, we will always be there for you. The Veterans Administration will provide you with the disability compensation benefits you need to live in dignity and those benefits will keep pace with inflation.
Today, more than 3.2 million disabled veterans receive disability compensation benefits from the Veterans Administration.
Under the chained CPI, a disabled veteran who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits cut by more than $1,400 at age 45; $2,300 at age 55; and $3,200 at age 65.
I challenge anyone who supports a chained-CPI, to go to Walter Reed. Visit with the men and women who have lost their legs, lost their arms, lost their eyesight as a result of their service in Afghanistan or Iraq. We made a promise to these veterans. Cutting their COLA’s would be reneging on those promises and we cannot let that happen.
We have also made a commitment to the surviving spouses and children who have lost a loved one in battle by providing them with Dependency Indemnity Compensation benefits that average less than $17,000 a year.
Like many of my colleagues in the Senate, I have attended the funerals of brave soldiers killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
I remember telling their grieving spouses and young children that our country would never forget their sacrifice and loss. It would be absolutely immoral to cut the very modest benefits they receive by adopting a chained-CPI.
Further, we have made a promise to every American: Social Security will be there for you in your old age, or if you become disabled. And, those benefits will also keep up with inflation.
Today, over 9 million veterans receive Social Security benefits; and more than 770,000 veterans receive Social Security disability benefits. We’re talking about those who served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and many others.
Under the chained CPI, average seniors who retire at age 65 would see their Social Security benefits cut by about $650 a year when they reach 75 and more than $1,000 a year once they turn 85.
We simply cannot renege on the promises we have made to our nation’s veterans by cutting the very modest benefits that they have earned. That’s exactly what the chained-CPI would do and that is exactly why it does not belong in deficit reduction.
And, let me be very clear: the American people strongly support the position we are advocating for today, including the AARP, the AFL-CIO, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and many other groups representing senior citizens, working families, and the disabled.
In poll after poll, including one that appeared just yesterday in the Washington Post the American people have been extremely clear: do not cut Social Security, do not cut Medicare, do not cut Medicaid benefits, and do not lower COLAs.
It’s time that Congress and the White House listened to the people who have put their lives on the line defending this country and to the American people.