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October 15, 2013

US Veterans Urge Lawmakers to End Shutdown

by Arash Arabasadi

The U.S. government remains shut down in a partial closure that has put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work, at least temporarily. Lawmakers have yet to reach common ground, and that means many federal workers stay home and national parks, monuments and museums stay closed.  Some vocal veterans’ groups visited Washington over the weekend to protest the closures. But they were not the only ones there. Seeking their place in the spotlight were lawmakers aligned with the “Tea Party,” a group of lawmakers within the Republican Party vehemently opposed to compromising with Democrats on matters of budget.
 
The Million Veterans March - as it was called - was supposed to be a peaceful call for an end to the government shutdown now threatening many veterans’ benefits.
 
But that changed on Sunday when Tea Party politicians took the stage. Among them was Senator Ted Cruz.
 
“Let me ask a simple question.  Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep veterans out of this memorial?” asked Cruz.
 
Protestors tore down barricades and carried them to the White House where they tossed them in front of the gates and shouted slogans against the president.
 
“Obama’s got to go!  Obama’s got to go!” they yelled.
 
Critics of the rally say that it became more about Tea Party politics than about the plight of veterans. But on Tuesday, at the World War Two Memorial, several veterans’ groups rallied for their benefits; not politics. Retired Marine Ken Hopper was one of them. 
 
“It’s time to end the nonsense.  It’s time to remember their obligations.  These are representatives elected by the people, and they should remember that they serve the people instead of serving themselves,” said Hopper.
 
The group was joined by Iraq war veteran Ray Kelley.
“It is time that Congress starts the government again.  Veterans paid a price.  Promises were made to them that if they serve our country, that our country will take care of them.  We’re failing in that mission,” said Kelley.
 
Death benefits are paid to families of fallen soldiers, but due to the shutdown, those payments may take longer than normal. Joann Fischer is a post commander for the Disabled American Veterans.
 
“By doing this it has caused catastrophic problems for all of our veterans.  Our old, our young, our men, our women and our families.  Congress, get it together, today.  Not tomorrow.  Today.  Now.  Something has to be done,” said Fischer.
 
And now some veterans, like Gary Benenati, fear they’ll lose their disability benefits, too.
 
“Look at your children in the face.  Just sit down and look at them in the face, and try to imagine telling them you don’t have money to feed them.  Try to do that, and then you’ll know what it’s like to be a disabled veteran without his Check,” said Benenati.
 
His message was something that resonated well in the crowd - a feeling that benefits guaranteed by the government now hang in jeopardy. Craig Meinhardt is with the Army National Guard.
 
“We give up our lives.  I’ve lost several brothers in these wars in these last ten years that I’ve served with.  If our government doesn’t care enough to make sure that we’re taken care of, why are we doing it?” – asked Meinhardt.
 
Congressional lawmakers remain deadlocked on the shutdown issue, and with the looming issue of the debt ceiling just a few short days away, the country may need to brace itself for the next hit.