Veterans Push to end the Government Shutdown
Washington (CNN) – A military coalition including 33 of the nation’s leading veterans and uniformed services organizations on Tuesday will stage a major event in Washington to push for an end to the government shutdown.
Activists for veterans and the nation’s service members have warned the shutdown – especially as it approaches the end of its second week – has had a devastating impact on them and their families, and now they are stepping up their campaign to put political pressure to re-open the government.
The event will be held Tuesday morning at the National World War II Memorial, several sources familiar with it confirmed to CNN. Some of the major groups that will be represented include: The American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Air Force Sergeants Association, National Military Family Association and Jewish War Veterans.
Officials from these groups say there is a lot of frustration and uncertainty as the shutdown continues, such as among veterans who receive disability and GI Bill benefits and survivors who rely on survivor benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs has said it would not be able to pay benefits if the government stayed closed through the end of month.
One of the approximately 3 million wounded veterans who are facing dire circumstances is Ryan Lamke. He told CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr he had this message for the politicians about what he and his fellow veterans will face if their checks don’t arrive.
“It means that they may go broke. They may have that extra financial stress on an already stressed life. It could be, in worst case scenario, a suicide spike; emotional stability drops. I mean, we’re talking about a population of veterans that are not seeking out the mental health care they so desperately need.”
Lamke, who came home from Iraq in 2008 after seven IED attacks, was diagnosed with traumatic brain jury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although he went on to graduate from college, he is now unemployed, and his VA disability check is his only source of income. If the shutdown goes past Tuesday, he said he has been told the VA will not be able to make the payments scheduled to go out the first of November – when he has a lot of bills due.
When asked what that meant for him, he told Starr “I go broke. I go broke. It’s really that simple.”
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this week about the impact of the shutdown, telling Congress that on November 1, the department will not be able to pay all of the approximately 3.8 million beneficiaries who are expecting checks.
“I need the authorization, appropriations and a budget to be able to do that,” he said. “Let us get back to work. The sooner we do it the faster I get back up to full speed.”
Also impacted are the 435,000 veterans in the VA’s disability claims backlog who now will have to wait longer for their applications to be dealt with because the agency has stopped paying overtime to processors who were trying to cut the backlog.
The House has passed a bill to fund the VA as part of its strategy to finance the politically popular and necessary parts of the government in a piecemeal approach. The Senate has not voted on that bill because Democrats argue the whole government should be re-opened.