Congress seeks to restore COLA cuts

The American Legion has been working with members of Congress for the past several weeks to correct an unfair provision contained in the recently passed budget bill (Public Law 113-67) directed at military retirees. The provision in question would reduce the annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for retired pay on some working-age military retirees by a 1 percent reduction each year until age 62. Although the COLA provision does not go into effect until 2016, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has remained open to finding a way to restore COLA.

When President Barack Obama signed P.L. 113-76, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for the remainder of fiscal year 2014, it contained a provision to restore the COLA reduction to disabled military retirees and their survivors. However, it left in place the annual COLA cut for all other retirees, resulting in the need for further legislation to restore the COLA reduction for all military retirees. The Senate is focusing on two measures to restore the veteran retiree COLA: S. 1963 and S. 1982.

S. 1963 would repeal the section of P.L. 113-67 regarding the retiree COLA reduction. The measure does not contain any fiscal offsets, which some senators were seeking as a way to pay for the COLA repeal. Senators Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Kay Hagen, D-N.C., and Jean Shaheen, D-N.H., – the bill’s original sponsors – are examining other portions of the federal government for potential offsets. This bill is narrowly focused on the COLA reduction.

S. 1982, introduced by Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., would improve the provision of medical services and benefits to veterans. The bill’s main thrust is expansion of health-care services, education and employment for veterans, and it also includes a complete repeal of the COLA reduction. Unlike S. 1963, Sanders’ bill contains offsets for the restoration of COLA, but the measure’s supporters believe that cuts in overseas contingency operations within the defense department could be used.

Two Legion resolutions support these two bills: Resolution 29, "Oppose lowering of cost-of-living adjustments," and Resolution 25, "Support for military quality of life standards.

House approves in-state tuition for veteran students

On Feb. 3, the House of Representatives voted 390-0 to pass H.R. 357, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013. This measure would mandate that public universities participating in VA educational assistance programs charge veterans, at the most, the in-state tuition rate regardless of the veterans official state of residence. The bill seeks to further refine the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (P.L. 110-252), informally known as the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which went into effect in 2009. The bill would help veterans who live in a new state once their service has ended and who find that the federal government’s reimbursement will not fully cover the higher tuition rates that generally apply to students from out of state. The measure now goes to the Senate for further action.

American Legion Resolution 27, "Veterans GI Bill Education Improvement," supports this bill.