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 10:25 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
updated 3:00 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
updated 4:40 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
updated 8:32 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
updated 2:05 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT