Congress passes cost-of-living increase for veterans

Billings Gazette

by Cindy Uken

A 90-year-old, disabled World War II veteran heralded the passage of a 3.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment for veterans and their families as “great news.”

“It will help put bread on the table,” said Art Klein of Billings, a former prisoner of war.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved the increase, which takes effect in 2012. The bill was called up after the announcement of the Social Security adjustment, which is decided by an automatic formula that Congress does not control. Only when Social Security recipients get a raise can Congress act to give the same increase to veterans.

Beneficiaries will see a 3.6 percent adjustment, increasing the average annual benefit by $516 to $14,748.

“It means I can meet some of my bills and pay as I go,” Klein said.

The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2011 directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase, as of Dec. 1, 2011, the rates of veterans’ disability compensation, additional compensation for dependents, the clothing allowance for certain disabled veterans and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children.

Recipients will see the increase reflected in the checks that arrive in their mailboxes in January. It is the first such raise since 2009. Only twice since 1975 — the past two years — has there been no cost-of-living adjustment.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and co-sponsored the legislation.

“This is another victory in the fight to make sure this nation’s veterans receive the benefits they earned, and to make sure those benefits keep pace with our economic realities,” Tester said. “Veterans who gave part of themselves in service to our country deserve benefits that match the cost of living.”

The legislation is significant in Montana, which has the second-highest veteran population per capita in the nation, about 103,000 veterans. Alaska has the highest.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., applauded the vote, saying, “Our veterans sacrificed a lot to earn their benefits and we have a responsibility to make sure those benefits keep up with the rising costs of gas prices, groceries and other necessities. It’s simply the right thing to do.”