A bill providing disabled veterans and their survivors a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment passed the House on Tuesday and is on its way to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
The increase is effective Dec. 1 and will first appear in January checks. It applies to veterans’ disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors and to pensions for low-income combat veterans. About 3.7 million people are affected by the bill, which the Senate passed in late October.
The legislation, S 893, provides an increase that is automatic for Social Security and military and federal civilian retired pay recipients but is extended to veterans only if Congress acts.
For other federal beneficiaries, annual adjustments are tied to changes in the Consumer Price Index, a measurement of the cost of goods and services maintained by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Congress has never made the COLA automatic for veterans, although the idea has been discussed as a way to eliminate the threat of veterans not receiving the increase if Congress fails to act.
For an unmarried veteran with a 30 percent disability rating, the 1.5 percent adjustment will result in an increase of less than $6 a month in their disability checks. For a married veteran rated as 100 percent disabled, the monthly increase will be about $46.
Symbolically, the measure passed by Congress is sets a precedent for what is missing, said Joseph Violante, legislative director of Disabled American Veterans.
For the first time in two decades, the COLA adjustment does not require the Veterans Affairs Department to round down increases to the next lowest dollar, Violante said. This is hardly a windfall for veterans, because at most it would provide 99 cents more a month or $11.88 a year, but it does stop a practice long hated by veterans for its symbolism.