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Veterans benefits will match the Social Security cost-of-living increase in 2017, thanks to a measure finalized by Congress this week.
But veterans groups hoping for a more permanent answer to the annual legislative hand-wringing over their benefits boost will have to wait longer for that solution.
Under law, annual cost-of-living increases are automatic for Social Security benefits, determined by the executive branch without intervention from Congress. But veterans benefits fall into a different category, one that requires lawmakers to vote on an adjustment every year.
In the last few decades, veterans have seen their annual adjustment differ from the Social Security COLA only one time (in 2000, as a result of a minor rounding difference between the two rates.)
But outside groups have called having the two increases dealt with separately confusing at best and potentially ripe for abuse or mistakes.
The measure finalized by the Senate this week — it passed without opposition late Wednesday — links the veterans benefits boost to Social Security rates for 2017 alone.
Legislation to permanently tie veterans payouts to the Social Security cost-of-living calculations was passed by the House in February, but has languished in the Senate since then. Bill sponsor Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., said he is still hopeful that measure can advance through Congress later this year.
"Providing a cost-of-living adjustment for veterans is an important step to ensure their financial stability,” he said in a statement. "It is certainly encouraging that both houses in Congress have passed my COLA bill this year, but we need to go further.
"Veterans deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing a COLA will come annually, rather than hoping Congress can break its gridlock to provide for them.”
The change affects the annual rates of VA disability compensation, dependency compensation for surviving children and spouses, and medical clothing allowances for veterans, among other benefits.
It will not affect adjustments for military retirement pay, which are calculated through other methods.
In a statement, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called the move an issue of fairness for veterans who sacrificed for the country.
"Escalating living expenses are painfully squeezing veterans who rely on disability payments, and this bill would ensure their compensation keeps pace with rising costs,” he said. "It is our duty to provide veterans and their families the support they need to live with the dignity they deserve.”
The president is expected to sign the measure in coming days.
Congress won’t take up the issue of a permanent fix again for at least two months. Lawmakers started an extended election-year summer recess on Thursday.
Social Security and veterans benefits did not see a cost-of-living increase in 2016, due to lower inflation costs and the methodology used by government officials to calculate the raise. No announcements have been made on a possible 2017 increase.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.