By Sanford Holmes
I, like many veterans who have proudly served this country, don’t understand why Congress would even consider dishonoring its commitment to disabled veterans who have sacrificed so much for their country. But that is exactly what a little-understood proposal to cut federal spending would do. It demands sacrifice from a group that has given more than its share -- our nation's veterans, including those with severe disabilities and elderly survivors of World War Two.
The proposal, known as the chained CPI, is touted as a more accurate way to compute cost-of-living adjustments to federal benefits. Unfortunately, that’s not true for older Americans, including many veterans and people with disabilities, whose hard-earned benefits would no longer keep up with inflation if this proposal takes effect.
My father, three brothers, one son and I have served our nation for over 60 years. My oldest brother is a Vietnam veteran who is 100% disabled and my son, a disabled veteran of the Gulf War, both would be economically crippled by a chained CPI whose permanent adjustments in the cost of living take a bigger and bigger bite over time. The effect would be a stealth and growing benefit cut for the rest of their lives.
“America’s heroes deserve better from a grateful and caring nation,” declared Barry A. Jesinoski, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, in a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
A chained CPI underestimates the health care spending of seniors, as well as others who may have chronic conditions and disabilities, because it is based on a younger, working population. It also overestimates the ability of older veterans and others to substitute services and products when prices rise.
Nationally, 23 million veterans would lose an estimated $19 billion over a 10-year period. In Ohio, that translates to a loss of $354 million for 921,000 veterans over the next decade. What do these statistics mean for an individual? Consider a 30-year-old veteran who has severe disabilities. Compared to current law, this warrior’s VA benefits would be reduced by $1,425 a year at age 45, by $2,341 at 55 and by $3,231 at 65, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Reductions also would erode Social Security benefits, which millions of veterans depend on as the foundation of their financial well-being in old age. Under a chained CPI, a retiree who lives to age 92 would actually lose a month’s worth of benefits each year.
Now, I want to be clear about something: Veterans respect the value of personal sacrifice. They know what it means to step up, and they have proven this in their actions. Veterans also understand the need for fiscal discipline. Their lives are testament to a belief in keeping America strong.
But budget decisions should be fair, and promises should be kept. Reducing the cost-of-living adjustment by shifting to an improper formula falls short on both counts. That is why the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and more than a dozen other veterans’ organizations oppose the chained CPI.
On behalf of a grateful and caring nation, We the People must honor our debt to America’s heroes. A Chained CPI is not fair and nor equitable to those who have already given so much. Surely, our great nation can find a way to strengthen its finances without taking even more from those who already have given so much.
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Sanford Holmes of Dayton volunteers as an appointed AARP Ohio legislative advocate and is a retired Major with the United States Air Force.