Keeping Our Promise to Veterans

Who's going to tell a disabled veteran or his loved ones that it would be inconvenient to die and be buried at a national cemetery after January 15, if Congress lets the government shut down again or fails to fully fund that which our veterans have so dearly earned?

Who's going to tell the family of a deceased infantryman that they'd have to wait to learn about survivor's benefits if the government fails to fund Veterans Affairs (VA) programs and shuts down helplines a second time?

Who'll tell that paralyzed Marine in a wheelchair, that the aide who helps him get dressed at home and out to work each morning won't be coming by, if Congress fails to get its act together? Or tell the decorated Navy electronics tech that the ride she was counting on to get across town for a job interview won't be showing up? Or tell the former Air Force pilot that the proud warrior back from Afghanistan without arms or hands might just to have wait to make his home navigable?

The recent government shutdown was stopped short of an even bigger disaster by some limited advance appropriations which kept VA hospitals mostly open and which allowed, barely, most VA benefits payments to be made. But our veterans put on the uniform with a total promise of all the tools in the benefits arsenal that they have earned -- not some limited-time offer. And for hundreds of thousands of veterans with disabilities, the government shutdown we just endured was not just about income -- it's about outcomes. It was about promises made and promises broken. We veterans kept our part of the deal.

Congress must keep all its promises to veterans. Congress must meet the basic necessities of life for all of the women and men who gave just short of their lives for us all. Congress can and must authorize advance appropriations for all veterans programs.

We veterans share the same financial concerns as most other Americans: paying rent, buying food, sustaining a family, etc. But for those of us with severe disabilities, living without promised programs comes with extra costs. For us, another impasse over the budget does not just mean benefits delayed. It means benefits denied. Our government's failure to keep its promises had -- and could have once again, real and immediate impacts to our veterans that harm their health and their basic dignity.

According to a February 2013 Congressional Research Report, more than 50,000 service members were wounded in action during Operations Enduring Freedom/Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn. Nearly 1,500 major amputations. More than 6,000 severe traumatic brain injuries. Thousands of spinal cord injuries. Every individual behind these statistics suffered profound loss, in the form of a limb or function or mental cognition. They're working past that with the very help that was and may be again shut off if veterans' programs are again allowed to lapse.

Without advance appropriations, many Veterans Affairs services slowed or ground to a halt. Home care was disrupted or shut down. The GI Bill education services hotline closed. The veterans' appeals center was shuttered. Vocational rehabilitation was limited. Even interment in national cemeteries was put on a "reduced schedule."

The Labor Department largely shut down the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) program which provides employment and counseling services to veterans. The Small Business Administration closed 10 centers focused on helping veterans create and operate businesses. The Housing and Urban Development Department stopped issuing vouchers to already-struggling homeless veterans. Don't forget the direct impact on more than 600,000 veterans employed by the federal government and the millions of others who work for federal contractors. Another week or two and even the basic VA benefit checks for millions might have stopped, too.

Short-term government "solutions" are not an answer. Budgetary actions that incrementally threaten essential life services every 90 days are not what we promised our veterans. Added anxiety, the sleepless nights of caregivers, the despair of close friends are cumulative -- and painful.

That's not how we should honor service.

Veterans, with or without disabilities, earned a better outcome. Let's not have to tell another grieving widow that, sorry, the national cemeteries are on a reduced schedule. Let's not tell any veteran, disabled or otherwise, that it's too bad but the help they earned is just a broken promise.

We urge members of Congress to move now to authorize advance appropriations for all that you've promised our veterans. Down the road, not just to the next turn. Keep your promises. Just like we did -- just like you did -- when we all signed up to serve.