More than 5 million vets may not receive benefits next month if gridlock continues, groups say
Veterans could be left without money for rent, education, other needs, groups say
"It's time for the country to fulfill our promises to the men and women who served," speaker says
Nearly a hundred veterans from several dozen military coalitions converged at the National World War II Memorial in Washington on Tuesday to protest the partial shutdown of the government that they say could put more than 5.5 million service members at risk of not receiving their monthly benefits by November 1.
Flanked by veterans from various wars, Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, said from the podium: “Our message to the President and Congress (is), defaulting on not paying veteran’s benefits is not an option. We are here to tell them it’s time for the country to fulfill our promises to the men and women who served.”
According to the military coalition, veterans make up 27% of the federal workforce. The coalition is concerned about whether veterans who receive disability and GI Bill benefits or rely on survivor benefits will receive their next check.
Former Army Capt. Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, directed his frustration over the shutdown at what he considered political posturing by Congress.
“Inside the beltway, this is a game to them – they’re scoring points, they’re poll testing what they’re saying. Outside of the beltway, these are people’s lives,” he said.
Last week Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki told a congressional panel that if the shutdown does not end soon, the VA will not be able to assure the delivery of checks to more than 3 million veterans and their family members. This amounts to $6.25 billion in payments, including compensation and pensions, survivor benefits, educational vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits.
“Tuition and stipends for over 500,000 veterans service members and eligible family members and education programs will also stop,” Shinseki said.
Tarantino added that the biggest concerns for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are their disability payments and their GI bills.
“Schools might be able to wait for tuition and fees, but your landlord can’t. So we’re talking about real effects on people’s lives, potentially making people homeless and taking away the things that they need to transition from warriors back to citizens.”
Frank Yanick, a retired chief petty officer in the Navy, recalls the day he was in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. “Some of (the veterans) are living on food stamps and whatever they can get,” he said. He’s hoping for a presidential executive order to end the shutdown.
Speaking exclusively to CNN, Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, explained that the funds for veterans were intact.
“We changed the VA a few years ago to where we fund the VA a year in advance of everything else. … That money is already out there for that agency,” he said.
Instead he questioned whether the staff needed to process and deliver those millions of checks has been furloughed.