Latest Estimate Puts ‘Record’ Military Retiree COLA Increase in Doubt

Latest Estimate Puts ‘Record’ Military Retiree COLA Increase in Doubt
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After spending much of 2022 on a steady rise, the monthly figures used to calculate annual raises for military retirees, Social Security recipients, VA disability payees, and others have leveled off in recent months, ending talk of a potential double-digit cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).


The latest estimate by the nonpartisan Senior Citizens League puts the 2023 COLA at 8.7%, on par with the adjustment received by military retirees on March 1, 1982.


It’s important to note the adjustment’s calculations have changed frequently over the past 40 years. The current military-retiree COLA calculation, using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), is also used to determine the Social Security COLA, but that wasn’t always the case; Social Security recipients received a 7.4% COLA in 1982, for example, following an 11.2% boost the previous year.


MOAA’s COLA Watch page continues to track the monthly CPI-W figures and provides details on the calculation. A recent article also outlines the math – the July, August, and September figures will be averaged to determine the COLA increase, and the last of those three numbers is set for release the morning of Oct. 13.


Why It Matters to MOAA

Reporting these COLA numbers helps inform the financial plans of MOAA members. But MOAA’s interest in the adjustment goes beyond that, as evidenced by what took place the last time COLA figures reached current levels:

  • The Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1982 pushed back the dates for upcoming COLAs by one month each year (April 1983 to May 1984 to June 1985).
  • The FY 1984 budget request proposed cancelling that year’s military retiree COLA increase entirely. The proposal did not become law.
  • The 1985 Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act, which did become law in December of that year, halted all COLA increases on federal outlays – some payments were exempted, but not military retirement. MOAA (then The Retired Officers Association, or TROA) led with other military and veterans advocacy groups in the fight against this injustice, resulting in an October 1986 law reestablishing COLA increases for military retirees.


[RELATED FROM 2021: Could Congress Come for Your COLA? Here’s Why MOAA Stands Ready to Fight]


These legislative tendencies don’t all date back decades. Many retirees will remember MOAA’s fight to stop “COLA Minus 1 Percent” in 2013: a small change to the COLA calculation that would’ve made a big difference to an O-5 retiring after 20-year career who would’ve lost $124,000 in retirement.


Preventing the erosion of your earned benefits remains MOAA’s chief advocacy priority, and the need to protect the value of military retirement pay from inflation is a clear example of that mission. Keep in touch with MOAA’s efforts via The MOAA Newsletter and our Advocacy News page.


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About the Author

Kevin Lilley
Kevin Lilley

Lilley serves as MOAA's digital content manager. His duties include producing, editing, and managing content for a variety of platforms, with a concentration on The MOAA Newsletter and Follow him on Twitter: @KRLilley