Government and military retirees born on the wrong side of March 1 will get only half a cost-of-living raise for the next three years.

In an economy move earlier this year Congress voted to delay the next three COLA (cost of living allowance) raises for several million government and military retirees, moving the inflation adjustments back a month each year.

Previously, government retirees -- of which there are 100,000 in this area -- got full COLA raises effective March 1 of each year.

In March of this year retirees got an 8.7 percent COLA, reflecting the rise in living costs in 1981.

To save money in the next three fiscal years, Congress has moved the COLA payment due in 1983 to May and changed the payment to June for 1984 and to July in 1985.

To save even more money, Congress voted to give younger retirees -- those under the age of 62 -- only half of the COLA adjustments that older retirees will get, with a slight sweetener if inflation is higher than anticipated by Congress.

With several months to go in the 1983 COLA countdown, the raise for next year looks like it will be just above 4 percent or better. Most retirees will get more if the inflation rise for this year is higher.

In order to qualify for a full COLA raise next May, federal and military retirees will have to have reached their 62nd birthday by March 1, 1983. To get the full COLA for June, 1984, retirees must have become 62 by March 1 of that year, and to get the full increase due in July, 1985, retirees must be at least 62 by March 1, 1985.

Even though the raises are being delayed, Congress insists that only retirees who reach their 62nd birthday by March 1 of the year the raise is due can receive the full amount.

The speculation in Congress is that the 1983 raise will be 6.3 percent. If it is, retirees over the age of 62 will receive the full amount. Retirees under 62 will get half. If the living-cost raise exceeds the projected 6.3 percent, retirees who are over 62 will get the full amount; those under 62 will receive 3.3 percent, plus the difference above6.3 percent.

Democrats and Republicans who went along with the half-a-loaf formula for retirees under 62 argued that it was either this or cut COLA raises for all retirees. They reasoned that younger retirees were likely to be better off financially, or still working, and in a better position to cope with smaller raises.

Some retirees are talking about a class-action suit, charging Congress with breach of contract and with age discrimination against under-62 retirees, many of whom were in jobs that required them to retire at 50 or 55. But nobody yet has filed such a lawsuit and most of the younger annuitants appear resigned to, if not happy with, the situation.