GOP blocked cost-of-living adjustment for veterans, Sen. Murray says

September 27, 2012

The chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee complained Thursday that an unnamed Republican senator blocked a bill last week to provide veterans with an annual cost-of-living adjustment, a maneuver that could delay payments for recipients.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) brought the bill to the floor Sept. 21. The bill was cleared by Democrats but was held up by an unidentified Republican, according to her office. The Senate subsequently recessed without passing the bill.

After Murray issued a statement Thursday morning calling the development “stunning,” the office of Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the ranking Republican on the veterans committee, said the issue had been resolved.

“It has cleared our side, meaning there is no hold,” David Ward, a spokesman for Burr, said Thursday afternoon.

Under Senate rules requiring unanimous consent, a single senator can block legislation by privately placing a hold on the bill.

The bill, HR 4114, was passed by the House in July and is intended to provide more than 3.9 million veterans and their survivors with a cost-of-living adjustment to disability compensation and benefits meant to offset inflation and other factors, according to Murray’s office. The bill normally passes each year without controversy.

With the Senate out of session until Nov. 13, the legislation will have to be passed immediately to provide the increase in time for January’s disability checks, according to Murray’s office.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday afternoon that for VA to pay the December adjustment as scheduled on Jan. 1, Congress would have to pass the COLA by Nov. 13.

“Should Congress pass the COLA after that date, VA would have to make complex programming changes to the system that could not be accomplished in time to pay the COLA increase on January 1,” the VA said in a statement. “Consequently, the December COLA increase would have to be paid retroactively.”

Veterans’ representatives reacted angrily to Murray’s disclosure.

“It is outrageous that disabled American veterans are once again being held hostage to partisan politics,” said Bob Wallace, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Failure to pass the bill could cost veterans and their families up to $500 next year, according to Paul Sullivan, director of veterans outreach for Bergmann & Moore, a law firm concentrating on VA disability law.

Last week, Senate Republicans blocked a bill to create a Veterans Job Corps after raising procedural objections over the program’s cost.

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