Skip to main content

Veterans deserve services, not political posturing

By Nick McCormick, Special to CNN
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Fri October 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nick McCormick: Death benefits were cut off to families of the fallen
  • He says a temporary fix doesn't fully undo impact of the partial government shutdown
  • Members of Congress rush to denounce cuts in veterans' services to score PR points
  • McCormick: What we need is action to end shutdown, not political posturing

Editor's note: Nick McCormick is a legislative associate at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. An Army veteran, he deployed to Iraq from 2008 to 2009.

(CNN) -- Every day, the federal government's partial shutdown brings more tragic and disheartening news to America's veterans, troops and their families.

This week, the Department of Defense announced it would be unable to pay the $100,000 death gratuity benefit to support families of the fallen -- news that is insulting to those who serve and their families.

For a government that readily claims to support America's troops and veterans by spending billions on service members and veterans, legislators failed to notice that this particular lack of funding, a mere fraction of the Defense Department's budget, would be cut off, causing needless pain to grieving families.

Nick McCormick
Nick McCormick

The news drew quick condemnation from pundits, the military and veterans community, and members of Congress. Politicians from both parties, displaying a sense of urgency yet to be seen on the notion of ending the shutdown, rushed to condemn the decision and quickly called for the benefits to be reinstated. Fortunately, the military charity Fisher House Foundation has stepped up and will cover these benefits for the Pentagon until the problem is solved.

The strong words and overwhelming bipartisan support on death benefits and veterans funding issues makes veterans wonder why Congress can muster such sharp and decisive action on a limited basis, especially when it involves veterans and the military community?

Veterans and military families are left to wonder if the pledges of support are genuine, or do they just conveniently provide a symbolic fallback issue for legislators when governing in Washington gets tough?

As part of shutdown politics, members continually retreat to the veterans community, to the point that they start tripping over each other to be first in front of the camera. This behavior was on display last week as well when members of Congress attempted to gain the upper hand in the public relations battle over the closure of the World War II Memorial.

VA chair on how shutdown hurts vets
Shutdown could leave veterans homeless
Shutdown does not stop WWII vets

For "the greatest generation," the World War II Memorial is more than pillars and a fountain; it is a shrine to the more than 400,000 Americans who gave their lives in lands far away from the United States for ideals that we still fight for every day in this country. It is a solemn place of remembrance for men and women who endured hardship, tragedy and suffering on levels that many of us simply cannot fathom.

Once the government shutdown began, the site was supposed to be off-limits to everyone, including World War II veterans. But on the day the government shut down, 92 World War II veterans visiting from Mississippi made headlines by breaking through the barricades and paying homage to their fallen comrades. Suddenly, a war that ended more than 65 years ago became current a few hours into a government shutdown.

The image of World War II veterans breaking through yellow tape and metal barricades went viral, and members of Congress from both parties quickly attached themselves to the fight.

This shutdown has generated a style of bandwagon politics in the last week that is getting stale. Rather than focus on solving the problems that resulted in the shutdown, politicians are conveniently highlighting veterans and military families without doing the one job that will really help: Ending the shutdown.

The threat for veterans and military families is all too real. A denial of some services and lingering doubt about the future will only add more financial and emotional anguish to a community that's already endured war for more than a dozen years.

On social media via #Shutdownstories and calls to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America case managers, we hear from veterans in the Veterans Affairs backlog who will have to spend more time waiting for a claims decision than they spent in combat zones.

Veterans who make up 27% of the federal workforce are now furloughed. National Guard drills are being rescheduled or canceled in many states, affecting troop readiness and pay. On base, services that military families count on are now closed. Veterans who rely on disability and GI Bill benefits are facing the very real possibility of not getting their benefits next month, as Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testified Wednesday.

Photo-ops, shouting matches and gimmicks will not help veterans and military families who are hurting during the shutdown. These political events provide no long-term benefits for the military community and get us nowhere closer to ending a shutdown that is inflicting real pain on the men and women who fought for our country.

The political games and posturing need to end. Make no mistake that veterans and military families appreciate compliments and expressions of support and gratitude -- but what we need most right now are solutions.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nick McCormick.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT