Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I am speaking in support of Senate passage of S. 423, the "Veterans' Compensation Cost -of -Living Adjustment Act of 2007." This measure, which I introduced earlier this year and which the Committee on Veterans' Affairs reported on July 24, would direct the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs to increase, effective December 1, 2007 , the rates of veterans' compensation to keep pace with the rising cost -of -living in this country. The rate adjustment is equal to that provided on an annual basis to Social Security recipients and is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index.
Congress regularly enacts an annual cost -of -living adjustment, "COLA," for veterans' compensation in order to ensure that inflation does not erode the purchasing power of the veterans and their families who depend upon this income to meet their needs. This past year Congress passed, and the President signed into law, Public Law 109-361, which resulted in a COLA increase of 3.3 percent for 2007. The cost-of-living adjustment for 2008 will be 2.3 percent.
As I have stated many times, it is important that we view veterans compensation, including the annual COLA, and all benefits earned by veterans, as a continuing cost of war. Unfortunately, it seems highly likely that the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue and this in turn will result in injuries and disabilities that will yield an increase in claims for compensation. One million, six hundred thousand servicemembers have deployed in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, and studies by VA indicate that the most significant predictor of new claims activity is the size of the active force.
The COLA affects, among other benefits, veterans' disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. Many of the more than 3 million recipients of those benefits depend upon these tax-free payments not only to provide for their own basic needs, but those of their spouses, children and parents as well. Without an annual COLA increase, these veterans and their families would see the value of their hard-earned benefits slowly dwindle, and we, as a Congress, would be in abandonment of our duty to ensure that those who sacrificed so much for this country receive the benefits and services to which they are entitled.
Disbursement of disability compensation to our nation's veterans constitutes a core responsibility of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is a necessary measure of gratitude afforded to those veterans whose lives were irrevocably altered by their service to this country.
I urge all of our colleagues to support passage of this COLA increase. I also ask our colleagues for their continued support for our Nation's veterans
October 18, 2007