WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 – As a Friday deadline neared in Congress’s latest budget showdown, Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today questioned veterans group leaders about a proposal to cut disability benefits.
Sanders has led opposition in Congress to reducing benefits by changing how the consumer price index is calculated. “It would mean very significant cuts for Social Security beneficiaries as well as for disabled veterans,” Sanders said at a joint hearing of the Senate and House veterans’ affairs committees.
Sanders asked representatives of veteran service organizations for their assessment of the proposal.
Tom Tarantino, the policy chief for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called it “a terrible idea.” He added, “It astounds me that we keep asking veterans to sacrifice more and more.”
H. Gene Overstreet, president of the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, called it “a bad idea” and said “veterans have paid their due.”
“Unconscionable,” was how Charles Susino, the World War II veteran and national commander of the American Ex-Prisoners of War, characterized the proposal.
The change in how the consumer price index is calculated would result in significantly lower annual cost-of-living adjustments. 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, according to the Congressional Budget Office. More than 55 million retirees, widows, orphans and disabled Americans on Social Security also would be affected by the switch to a so-called chained CPI.
The proposal has been advanced by House Republicans and embraced by some Democrats. The White House has said that President Barack Obama would consider the chained CPI as a way to cut benefits by billions of dollars.