Retired federal and military personnel are due a 7.7 percent COL (cost of living) raise Sept. 1. The question is whether they will see that inflation-catchup raise in annuity checks mailed for October, or must wait until March 1981.

There are 350,000 U.S. retirees and survivors in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Their average monthly annuity, before taxes, is $868. The 7.7 percent boost would raise the civilian survivor annuitant average to $935.

Federal-military retirees now get inflation adjustments every six months, in March and September.

The problem is that budget-cutters want to trim federal-military retirement costs by limiting U.S. retirees to one COL a year. In an attempt to save both March and September COL raises from permanent extinction, the Senate has okayed a plan to make the savings a one-time deal. It would skip the retiree raise in September, then give retirees a full-inflation catchup in March.

The House is considering a plan to give retirees the September boost and skip the March 1981 raise. It would return to the two COL concept with the September 1981 raise. It will be up to Senate-House Budget Committee conferees to decide whether to give the COL raise this September, or wait until March.

Until Congress decides which plan it wants, retirees won't know when their next COL raise is coming.