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Do What's Right for Veterans: End Government Shutdown and Fully Fund VA

October 11, 2013
Op-Ed and Letters

Originially published in the Huffington Post on October 11, 2013

Right now the U.S. House of Representatives is embroiled in a debate on whether or not to fully fund the federal government and end the current shutdown. For nearly two weeks, Americans have watched as House Republican Leadership continues to block attempts to vote on a bill that opens the government back up without strings attached.

Make no mistake, this shutdown is having real consequences for people in Connecticut and across the country. Head Start programs are cutting enrollment, agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the Center for Medicare Services are furloughing employees, and our airlines are functioning without much-needed staff. Further, economic uncertainty hinders the financial marketplace, impacting pension funds and 401ks for many Americans.

What's perhaps most shameful about this political standoff are the cuts to programs and services for our veterans. While payments to the families of deceased service members will be reinstated, veterans are continuing to deal with the suspension of tens of thousands of disability claims, increasing the strain on what is already a tremendous backlog, the potential for delayed disability payments, education benefits and more. In addition, furloughed VA employees make it near impossible to submit a new claim for our veterans coming home.

This is unacceptable. We must honor the sacrifices of those who have served our country, along with the families of these brave men and women. That's why House Democrats are calling on Congress to work together on a plan that fully funds agencies like the Veterans Administration. Despite our efforts, House Republican Leadership has taken a fruitless approach, voting again and again on 'piece-meal' resolutions that both the Senate and the Administration have condemned.

It's not just Congress and our president who are against these small resolutions. In a letter to Congressional Leadership, the National Executive Directors of AMVETS, DAV, PVA and VFW point to the impact of the current shutdown on our nation's veterans and the need to fully fund the Veterans Administration. In the letter, the directors clearly state that funding operations of the VA through short-term resolutions is not an acceptable solution. Unfortunately, House Republicans have spent more time voting on the very 'piece-meal' bills that our veterans organizations are speaking out against rather than working to end this shutdown.

Furthermore, the directors of these top veterans organizations also recognize the value of passing permanent budget solutions rather than 'stop-gap measures' that are currently being discussed in Washington. This is something myself along with many House Democrats have been demanding for years as the nation continues to teeter on the edge of fiscal uncertainty. As a path forward is developed in the coming days, weeks and months, I will be working with members on a permanent solution to end our current trend of short term solutions. Until then, my efforts will stay with honoring our veterans by doing all I can to fully fund the federal government and the VA at the level it needs to provide critical benefits and services.

Our veterans fought to make this nation the greatest democracy in the world, and it is wrong to use them in a political game where no one comes out a winner. It's time House Republican leadership do what is right for our veterans and fully fund the federal government so our veterans agencies can continue to provide these men and women with the services they have earned.