Some Veterans’ Benefits On Hold During Shutdown
It took Jordan Massa two years to get the disability and education benefits he earned after sustaining injuries from an IED explosion in Iraq.
The day he finally received his first payment was Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal shutdown. The check will help him pay his rent, make his car payment, and buy a few groceries. But it’s unlikely he’s going to receive another payment for next month.
He’s not alone. There are about 11,000 veterans in Connecticut who receive some sort of disability payment from the U.S. Veterans Administration.
Massa, a Bridgeport native who is currently living in Bristol, said Wednesday in a phone interview that he’s “aggravated” with Congress. He said if he missed his deadlines in the Army they would have taken away his rank and reduced his pay.
But he’s not as frustrated with Connecticut’s delegation because he feels they’re trying to get something done to end the stalemate. Massa received a call Wednesday morning from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who later mentioned him in his floor speech.
“He is entitled to those disability benefits,” Blumenthal said on the Senate floor. “And now Jordan Massa is on the verge of being denied the benefits that he needs and deserves because of this shutdown.”
Blumenthal questioned the decision to furlough 7,000 Veterans Benefit Administration employees and the programs they administer.
“What are the consequences of the VA saying this shutdown means we are shutting our doors to processing and paying claims of men and women who have served this country, who have been disabled as a consequence of that service, who have earned educational benefits so that they can come back and continue to contribute to this country?” Blumenthal asked his Senate colleagues.
“What that means to America is that we are, in effect, defaulting and failing on a core obligation this country has to men and women who serve and sacrifice,” he said. “America is failing to keep faith with its veterans and America is failing on one of its most essential obligations.”
The House voted 425-0 Wednesday to restore the death benefits to families of fallen servicemembers. Its fate in the Senate remains unclear. In the meantime, the Pentagon has secured a $100,000 donation from the Fisher House Foundation to continue making payments to families of fallen servicemembers..
Veteran groups are also organizing and letting politicians know the time for games is over.
“Mr. President, Mr. Speaker and Mr. Majority Leader, the time for posturing and playing politics with veterans must come to an end,” Disabled American Veterans Commander Joseph Johnston wrote in a letter Wednesday. “We call on all of you to reach agreement and expeditiously enact full fiscal year 2014 appropriations for all federal programs, services and benefits that directly or indirectly support America’s heroes, especially those wounded, injured and ill due to their service.”
According to a fact sheet on the VA’s website, “Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October, but if the shutdown continues, claims processing and payments will be suspended when funding runs out.”
All VA medical facilities and clinics, which serve 50,000 veterans in Connecticut, have advance appropriations for 2014 and will remain open.