Vets and the Government Shutdown

To a veteran, gridlock in our government looked like this:

Where would next month’s rent come from?  Groceries and gas to travel to look for work? Money to pay phone and utility bills?  They didn’t stop because the government was shut down.

For disabled vets, the situation was worse.  What options are there if you’re unable to work?

What do you tell your family, your children?  

Waiting for the VA to process your benefits claim? Remember that staggering backlog of a million claims last spring. You’ve already waited a long time.  How did it feel to know that the system had slowed because of furloughed federal employees?  Slowed. Which translates to “building another backlog.”

The shutdown wasn’t easy for anybody.  As it wore on, it became more and more frustrating. To a veteran who depends on benefits and payments, it was way more than that.  Who among us can gauge the toll of added anxiety placed on disabled vets, men and women with PTSD, TBI, debilitating injuries, burns?  Men and women with families to look after; men and women who are already isolated.

Several days ago our hotline received a call from the combat zone in Afghanistan from a soldier worrying whether his family would receive the money they need.  Think about it.  From the combat zone.

Does anybody else out there find this humiliating?

Veterans affected by the shutdown run the gamut from WWII straight through to the current combat zone. How is it OK to ask them to put themselves in harm’s way, serve with dedication and distinction, involve their families and loved ones in a difficult way of life…and then strand them with the fear of no income?

No wonder the suicide rate is so high.  No wonder so many vets are isolated from society. Look at the message we continue to give them, knowingly or unknowingly.

What’s happened here?  We didn’t used to be this way, did we?

Maybe it’s time for Congress to protect the benefits side of the VA as they did the medical side in 2009. The Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act provided funding for the VA health care system for one year in advance.  Get this: it was passed by an almost unanimous vote that included the current leadership (Majority Leader Reid (D), Minority Leader McConnell (R), Speaker Boehner (R) and Minority Leader Pelosi (D), and many members of both parties who are still serving.

Great idea. The Putting Veterans Funding First Act would do just that.  According to Garry Augustine, writing for The Hill on October 5, “This legislation would align all of VA’s remaining discretionary programs and services, which comprise only 14 percent of VA’s total budget, with the same one-year advance appropriations cycle currently used for VA’s medical care accounts.” 

Given what we’ve just been through, and no guarantees that budget stalemates won’t continue, “ It is time to change how Washington funds veterans benefits by putting veterans funding first.  America’s veterans deserve no less.”

I couldn’t agree more.