The Senate late Friday voted to block cuts in benefits for Social Security and disabled veterans. The amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders put the Senate on record against changing how cost-of-living increases are calculated in a way that would result in significant cuts. Earlier in the week, Sanders on Wednesday chaired a hearing on veteran suicides and how the Department of Veterans Affairs is caring for troops returning from war zones. Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, which Sanders had voted against as a member of the House.
No ‘Chained CPI” Sanders amendment to protect seniors on Social Security and disabled veterans put the Senate on record against switching from the current method of measuring inflation to a so-called chained consumer price index. President Barack Obama favors a chained CPI as part of what the White House calls a “grand bargain” that Obama hopes to reach with congressional Republicans. The proposed change would affect more than 3.2 million disabled veterans receiving disability compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 55 million retirees, widows, orphans and disabled Americans receiving Social Security also would be affected by the switch to a chained CPI. That figure includes 9 million veterans with an average yearly benefit of about $15,500. A veteran with average earnings retiring at age 65 would get nearly a $600 benefit cut at age 75 and a $1,000 cut at age 85. By age 95, when Social Security benefits are probably needed the most, that veteran would face a cut of $1,400 – a reduction of 9.2 percent.
Mental Health Care for Veterans A Senate panel on Wednesday examined Department of Veterans Affairs efforts to provide mental health counseling for veterans who are committing suicides at a rate of more than 8,000 a year. The Department of Veterans Affairs has made progress, but is short of its own goal set last year to hire 1,600 clinicians by June 30. As of March 13, the VA had hired 1,105 clinicians. “I want to commend VA for the strides it has made,” said Sanders, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “In order to meet this goal, however, VA will need to hire almost 500 clinicians in the next two months. Dr. Robert A. Petzel, the head of the Veterans Health Administration, told Sanders that the VA would streamline its hiring process to meet the June 30 goal. “We know our work to improve the delivery of mental health care to veterans will never be truly finished, but we are confident that we are building a more accessible system that will be responsive to the needs of our veterans,” he testified. Petzel told Sanders the VA is treating 119,000 service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Iraq War The war in Iraq began 10 years ago Tuesday with a night-time bombardment of Baghdad. The war took the lives of 4,487 American troops, killed tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens and cost U.S. taxpayers at least $1.7 trillion. “When the president and the vice president were telling us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, they didn’t make the case to me. That’s why I not only voted against the war but helped lead the opposition,” Sanders said at the time. As the war dragged on, Sanders talked about it at a Vermont town meeting. “I think the evidence is very clear that Bush’s war in Iraq has been counterproductive in terms of fighting international terrorism." On Tuesday, he reflected on the events of the past decade and his opposition to the war. "I think history will record that as the right vote,” Sanders said.