Because of a bill that died in Congress last year, disabled veterans won't get a 5.4 percent cost-of-living raise in January - the same raise approved for Social Security recipients. That ought to be corrected, but without the problems that caused the first measure to fail.

Influential members of Congress already are lining up to see that the disabled veterans get their COLA - cost-of-living adjustment. Unfortunately, some are trying to make the issue of benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange a part of the package. That's a mistake since it was disagreement over the same issue that killed the bill last year.Backers of Agent Orange compensation have fought a 12-year battle to get the issue resolved in Congress. Approval was finally obtained in the past session from the House Veterans Affairs Committee for a measure requiring an outside panel to determine if there are links between the dioxin-contaminated herbicide and health problems of Vietnam veterans.

While that does not sound like a controversial measure, it has die-hard opponents who object to opening the door to a whole new field of veterans' benefits. Utahns who fought the decades-long battle in behalf of radiation fallout victims can recognize that stance.

When the Agent Orange proposal was tied to an omnibus veterans' bill, the whole measure was blocked, including the COLA for veterans.

When the new Congress convenes in January, two bills for a cost-of-living raise will be introduced - one with the Agent Orange provision and one without. Rather than hold the COLA for veterans hostage once more to a secondary issue, the raise would be granted and the Agent Orange issue dealt with separately.

A study of the possible effects of Agent Orange seems only fair, but let's handle that question on its own merits without making all disabled veterans pay for the argument.