BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 9 - In advance of Veterans Day, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) led a drive by more than 50 veterans and seniors organizations to block significant benefit cuts.
Sanders, a senior member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, sent a letter to congressional leaders opposing a change in how annual cost-of-living-adjustments are calculated that would lower Social Security and veterans' benefits. A revised consumer price index, a so-called chained CPI, would harm millions of veterans, senior citizens and persons with disabilities. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Blinded Veterans Association and 50 other organizations representing veterans, seniors and the disabled have signed onto the letter coordinated by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
"This Sunday is Veterans Day - a special day to honor the men and women who have bravely served our country. It is also a time to remember the promises we have made to our nation's wounded warriors and to keep those promises," said Sanders.
Ed Laviletta, a past commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Vermont, said the promise of cost-of-living adjustments is an important factor in recruiting volunteers to serve in the armed forces.
The proposed cuts, part of a deficit reduction plan pushed by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and investment banker and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, would lead to significant reductions in veterans' benefits, hurting the more than 3.2 million veterans who currently receive VA disability compensation payments.
The largest cuts would impact young, permanently disabled veterans who were seriously wounded in combat. According to the Social Security Administration, enacting the chained CPI would mean that permanently disabled veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would see their benefits cut by more than $1,300 a year at age 45; $1,800 a year at age 55; and $2,260 a year at age 65.
Veterans receiving Social Security would see deep cuts over time. A veteran receiving the average yearly Social Security benefit who retired at 65 would see a cut of over $500 a year at age 75; about $1,000 a year at age 85; and $1,400 a year at age 95, when they would likely need it most. These veterans, and their families, make up 35 percent of adult recipients of Social Security.
"The chained CPI has been referred to by Republicans and some Democrats in Washington as a ‘minor tweak,' but let's be clear: for millions of disabled veterans and seniors living on fixed incomes, the chained CPI is a significant benefit cut that will make it harder for permanently disabled veterans and the elderly to make ends meet," Sanders continued.
Sanders backs a different proposal that would likely raise benefits for the disabled and seniors by accounting for the greater inflation in costs for health care and prescription drugs.
In Vermont, there are more than 52,000 veterans, including 18,800 Vietnam War veterans; 5,900 Korean War veterans; 4,600 WW II veterans, and 9,500 Gulf War veterans. More than 128,000 Vermonters receive Social Security benefits, including 83,000 senior citizens.