Thursday, October 10, 2013

As Government Shutdown's Impact on Veterans Grows, VSO's React Angrily

Written by Anthony Hardie,

( - Oct. 10, 2013) - As the government shutdown continues well into its second week, anger kindling among the nation's largest veterans service organizations has burst into flame.

A pointed letter yesterday from the Veterans of Foreign Wars says its nearly 2 million members are "disgusted with the partisan bickering and government paralysis".  William Thien, VFW's national commander, expressed anger that there are now, "56 closed Department of Veterans Affairs regional offices, 7,000 furloughed employees, and more than 4 million disabled veterans and survivors who were told next month’s disability or survivor benefits check will be delayed."  

An earlier, Oct. 3 VFW letter decries, "a piecemeal approach that would use the military or disabled veterans as leverage in a political game."  

A similarly pointed letter letter yesterday from the Disabled American Veterans, the nation's largest organization of service-disabled military veterans, pulls no punches.   DAV National Commander Joe Johnston takes no sides, simply expressing to the President and both Houses of Congress DAV's, "rising outrage," that there is even the, "threat of default," on veterans' disability and related payments.  Johnston noted these are often the "primary or only source of income" for the nation's wounded warriors.  

Johnston also used the opportunity to call for advance appropriations for all VA programs.  While most other VA benefits are at risk of being shut down this month or are already shut down, VA's healthcare services remain in operation because DAV and other national veterans service organizations have succeeded in recent years in forcing Congress to enact appropriations at least a year in advance.  

As a tactic, all of the "Big 3" VSO's have chosen to address their concerns addressed jointly and equally to the President and the leaders of both Houses of Congress, refusing at least publicly to take sides in the shutdown showdown.  

News reports of recent national surveys show that the public blames all sides for the shutdown, though House Republicans are faring the worst.    

An Oct. 4th Fox News story insightfully notes that tactics by large national veterans groups like the American Legion to equally blame all sides may have the effect of lengthening the crisis: "But the effort to stay neutral may also have lessened the pressure to reach an agreement."

However, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), which now boasts 270,000 members and supporters, was more direct yesterday in Congressional testimony before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, laying the blame squarely on Congress.  "Veterans are hurting during the shutdown. They need the shutdown to end so they can receive and benefit from the services and support they have earned. But until Congress can re-open the government, our veterans deserve clear, reliable, and accurate information."

Only time will tell which political party wins or loses more in this "disgusting" failure amidst "rising outrage" from disabled and other veterans.  But VA Secretary Eric Shinseki made it clear during his  testimony yesterday that nearly all VA benefits programs not already closed, excluding VA healthcare services, will be shuttered within the coming weeks if a solution is not found -- meaning veterans are already the clear losers no matter which political party later claims victory.


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