Truman National Security Project

Guest opinion: Shameful shutdown jeopardizes veterans, families

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By Andrew Person | 10.18.13
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As veterans of different wars and different eras, we write to express our disgust at the state of affairs in Washington, D.C., and to call for an end to the slash and burn politics crippling our nation. Though the federal government shutdown is over, the damage to our nation and our nation’s veterans endures.

The shutdown hit veterans and their families hard. It forced the VA to cut overtime employees, slowing the review of backlogged disability claims, now more than 600,000 veterans deep. And in spite of alarmingly high unemployment among recently discharged veterans, the shutdown forced the VA to cut vocational rehabilitation and education counseling. The secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs testified that veterans were in danger of seeing their pension checks and health care benefits dry up entirely.

As if that were not enough, last week we heard news that should make everyone hang their heads in shame. The Department of Defense announced that it would be unable to pay the $100,000 death gratuity benefit to support families of combat fatalities and allow bereaved family members to be present when the bodies of their fallen sons are returned to American soil. How tragic that a private charity, Fisher House (www.fisherhouse.org) had to step up to provide the support that we as Americans, through our government, have a solemn duty to provide.

In his second inaugural, Abraham Lincoln said it was the nation’s duty to “care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and orphan.” But now political ideologues seem willing to make a mockery of the Great Emancipator’s words. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were sent to war with yellow ribbons declaring our support, but for the past two weeks we watched those same yellow ribbons turn into red tape for returning veterans.

We do not doubt the sincerity of those who express legitimate concerns about the state of our national debt as well as the nation’s health care system. But this shutdown was not the way to do business. These problems can only be solved by patient and diligent efforts within America’s constitutional framework. Instead, we witnessed a wrecking crew willing to bring the nation to its knees to score political points.

And just what did this travesty say to all of the veterans who have returned from war, and to soldiers just now coming home? If veterans can’t rely on their governmental leaders to act responsibly in something as straightforward as funding essential programs, and something as sensitive as attending to those who have “borne the battle” and their families, how can they find certainty in the other promises that have been made to them?

Furthermore, what did the shutdown say to those young Americans whose service and sacrifice we will need in the future?

As Gen. George Washington once said: “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”

This ridiculous, shameful game of chicken must never happen again. Crippling the nation we love is simply not an acceptable negotiating strategy. Jeopardizing the care of America’s veterans is an insult to all who donned the nation’s uniform and answered our country’s call to service.

Andrew Person is a Truman National Security Project Fellow. This article originally appeared on Billings Gazette.