Former Marine Terry Shreiner holds an American flag during a rally at the National World War II Memorial on Oct. 15 in Washington. The Military Coalition, a coalition of 33 of the leading veterans and uniformed services organizations, is demanding an end to the partial government shutdown. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
With details still elusive on a possible deal to restart the federal government and avoid defaulting on U.S. debts, the 33-member Military Coalition is pressing Congress to resolve the impasse and stop scaring people.
At a news conference and rally held Tuesday at the National World War II Memorial, retired Army Col. Herb Rosenbleeth, national director of Jewish War Veterans and the Coalition’s president, said Congress and the White House are letting down service members and veterans as the partial government shutdown extends into its 15th day, with just three days before the U.S. Treasury won’t have enough money to pay all of its obligations, including military and veterans benefits.
Army veteran Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said it seems as if some politicians have forgotten about veterans. “When the government shut down, our veterans still need support,” he said.
While Congress and the Obama administration have tried to mitigate the worst effects of the shutdown on military families and veterans, problems remain. Kathy Moakler of the National Military Family Association said there are still gaps in benefits and programs, and the threat of a missed payday on Nov. 1 if the government defaults on debts only adds to their concerns.
“Military families and survivors continue to face uncertainty,” Moakler said.
Even if Congress restores funding and avoids default, harm has been done. Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Andrew Davis, executive director of the Reserve Officers Association, said that after 12 years of war and more than 883,000 mobilizations, the National Guard and reserve were finally being treated like full members of the national security team — but the shutdown has stopped drills and training and canceled drill pay.
“After returning from war or disaster, they see that they are again being overlooked, making them feel that they are second-class warriors,” Davis said, noting that while Congress seems prepared to make sure federal civilian workers furloughed during the shutdown receive back pay, there is no plan to make up for the missed training and pay for the Guard and reserve.
House and Senate leaders are trying to agree to details of a plan to avoid default and reopen the government, although only temporarily. The draft plan calls for the federal government to reopen as soon as Congress approves, and President Obama enacts into law, temporary appropriations. Funding would expire on Jan. 15, creating another potential date for a shutdown. Additionally, the measure would allow the federal government to continue to pay debts through Feb. 7.
This is not the deal military and veterans groups want. “Playing politics with veterans pay and benefits it not an option,” said Ray Kelley of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The Coalition, which represents 5.5 million service members, veterans and families, is hoping that its call to end the government shutdown helps move lawmakers toward an agreement without the Coalition taking partisan sides.
In planning for their event, organizers warned that veteran-related events have been hijacked by other causes, such as a Saturday event at the World War II Memorial that included political speeches and signs calling for Obama’s impeachment.
Politicians were told to stay away from the Tuesday event because they would not be allowed to speak. The Coalition had a permit, and advised its members to be respectful of National Park Service officers.
Organizers told Coalition members to stay on message about ending the shutdown and advise attendees not to carry firearms or any flags other than the U.S. flag. Only one person apparently did not get the message; he waved a U.S. Marine Corps flag.