PRESIDENT CARTER ought, in our judgment, to veto the veterans' pension bill on grounds that it is inflationary. Those pensions go to veterans whose disabilities have nothing to do with their service in the armed forces. The disability is, most commonly, simply age. The nation's obligation to those men is no greater than its obligation to other citizens. But the departing Congress threw onto the president's desk a bill that calls for substantial increases in their pensions.
Mr. Carter needs to be aware that the spending implied by this bill may prove to be a great deal heavier that the bill itself suggests. There has been a certain traditional relationship between these pensions and the much more important scales of compensation to the people who have been injured in active military service. If this bill becomes law, Congress will certainly move next year to increase those compensation scales in the same generous proportion. According to one reckoning, the cost of re-establishing that traditional relationship might approach $2 billion a year.
The payments to veterans are turning into a classic example of the fashion in which the federal government itself contributes to inflation. Veterans' security is a popular cause, deservedly, but one thing keeps leading to another. The veterans' lobbies, and much of Congress, will consider those historic ratios of one program to another to be inviolable - even though the logic behind them may long since have faded away.
If Mr. Carter should choose to sign the pension bill now before him, he will need to disavow, promptly and explicitly, any application of the same formulas to the compensation for the veterans who were injured in the service. There is a case for raising that compensation. It is a national commitment to those who were wounded, and it needs to be adjusted continuously to the inflation rate. But the inflation rate is the right measure for raising it, and not its past relation to a small pension program that Congress, this year, mistakenly voted to raise too far.