Friday, July 25, 2014

Shutdown affects military families

The government’s inability to reach an agreement is hurting the people who most deserve our protection

For those of you praying for our government, bruising your knees from countless hours of repeating Obama’s name to God and hoping for divine intervention, let me write a few more concerns on this prayer list of yours.

HOME AGAIN — Aaron Warrender is reunited with wife Brittney and son Conner.  Photo provided

HOME AGAIN — Aaron Warrender is reunited with wife Brittney and son Conner. Photo provided

As we all know, or should know, the government is currently shut down indefinitely. According to washingtonpost.com, the House and Senate must agree on 12 appropriations bills to fund the federal agencies and set spending priorities. Basically, this year, the men in Congress could not agree, so they shut their doors and went home.

The House attempted to pass a bill that would delay the funding of Obamacare for one year, but anytime Obamacare is threatened to be delayed, the Senate does not pass the bill.

In theory, Congress could pass a stopgap budget — continuous resolutions — to keep the government funded, but of course they could not agree on what this stopgap would include, so it did not happen.

According to washingtonpost.com, federal workers were divided into excepted and non-excepted groups. Managers at federal agencies determined these ranks. Approximately 800,000 non-excepted federal workers were sent home.

So, who does the government consider essential? Those still working include 1.3 million federal workers, 1.4 million active-military members, 500,000 Postal Service workers and workers within independently funded agencies.

According to nbcnews.com, the shutdown is costing $12.5 million an hour, $300 million a day and $1.6 billion a week. Hey, taxpayers, you foot that bill.

But here is a bit of good news, members of Congress will continue to get paid regardless of the shutdown. It is a law.

What really hits home for me is the fact that members of the military are directly affected in multiple ways. With the shutdown, the Veterans Benefits Administration cannot process education and rehabilitation benefits. For the 3.6 million veterans who are awaiting their compensation, if the shutdown continues for two or three weeks, veterans might not receive disability claims and pension payments.

Families of five U.S. military men who tragically died did not receive benefits because of the government shutdown. According to cbs.com, death gratuities for service members typically total $100,000, which pays for any funeral bills and travel expenses for families.

“I was irritated at first, since my grandparents are receiving veteran pay, and they don’t have another source of income due to both of them being retired,” Taylor Wright, active duty Marine, said. “Another thing, some of the guys I’m with aren’t getting as much from veteran affairs for their college classes, and they are doing online classes. To those who died and aren’t getting anything, (it) is completely irresponsible on the government’s part.”

The knowledge that families went without pay when they were grieving is infuriating.

When I was a senior in high school, my brother Jacob was involved in a tragic motorcycle accident. I got the call on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. By the next morning, my other brother Aaron, who is an active Navy sailor, and his wife were flown from Japan and stood by my side in that stuffy hospital room.

My brother Aaron was on American soil 14 short hours after I initially got the call about the accident. My brother Jacob passed away a week later. Aaron and his wife, Brittney, stayed for a month with us, grieving.

The idea that family members of these five men were not able to be together at such a tragic time is heart wrenching. I cannot imagine being so far from my loved ones during such a time of need. I can honestly say I survived the death of my brother because of God and the support of my family, which always stood by my side.

According to latimes.com, the Fisher House Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit, gave the five families the money they needed, with the Department of Defense promising to pay the Fisher House Foundation back.

The fact that a nonprofit had to pay these funds instead of the Department of Defense is embarrassing for all of America.

“(Those in government) are going behind the backs of the men and women who are defending this country,” sophomore Joshua Hounsell said. “I think that is very wrong, and if something is not done, we will lose the support of our military, honestly.”

The news of the military cutbacks was not received well for those who are serving.

“It is sad to think that all that we do for the military and this country is not put into consideration when they cut funds from my unit and cut certain benefits,” Marine James Turner said. “(It) makes me think sometimes, ‘Why would someone start taking from the ones that protect the U.S.?’”

Obama realized his mistake and signed H.J. Res 91 Oct. 10, which, according to navytimes.com, allowed the government to pay the death gratuities to military families.

Thanks, Obama. All better now? Not quite. Let us look at the other ways the military is affected by the shutdown.

According to militaryfamily.org, along with veterans’ pay, retirement checks could be delayed or reduced in October. Education centers supporting service members and families will be closed. Tuition assistance will not authorize or grant newly added classes, and those taking classes with a lower level of credits will not receive full financial coverage. Military treatment facilities’ hours will be reduced, and workers will be limited for on-base health care. Finally, units may be required to pay for all travel costs associated with the recall to duty stations.

Drill weekends have also been canceled for those in the reserves. According to military.com, the shutdown has affected the military men and women’s morals and readiness by restricting their test flights and other drills necessary for training.

“I am in charge of three Marines, and when I had to tell them that we were not supposed to show up for (training) duty, the reaction I got from them was not the best,” Turner said. “My Marines love to train, and when they were told there will be no training, they were at a loss of words. They had a hard time swallowing it all via phone call.”

Because Congress cannot agree, we all must pay the consequences, especially the men and women who protected their freedom to disagree. If the men in Congress do not stand behind our troops, I would definitely welcome them to stand in front of them.

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