WASHINGTON – Six prominent veterans’ groups held a rare, joint press conference Tuesday calling for an end to the stalemate that has led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
The agencies affected by the shutdown employ at least 150,000 veterans, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“We ask the president and the Congress to get together, get your act together and get this situation resolved,” said Regis “Rege” Riley, national commander of American Veterans, or AMVETS.
“People are struggling and they’re facing very real financial challenges,” said Randy Reese, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, who said it is “well past time” to end the standoff so veteran employees can collect their missing pay.
Known as the “big six,” the groups – The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Veterans, and Disabled American Veterans – represent nearly 5 million members and wield considerable clout in Washington.
Veterans also have been a key constituency for President Donald Trump. They voted for him by a margin of nearly 2 to 1 in 2016, according to exit polls. In an Associated Press poll last month, more than half of veterans surveyed – 56 percent – said they approve of the job he is doing and 62 percent approved of his handling of border security.
The Big Six groups were joined by other veteran organizations, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which have already condemned the impasse since the shutdown started Dec. 22.
“This shutdown is terrible for America, terrible for our national security and especially terrible for our nation’s veterans. It must end immediately,” Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA founder and CEO, said in a statement last week.
“The President can end this tomorrow. And he should. As our Commander-in-Chief, we need him to prioritize our needs above politics. Now and always. IAVA members nationwide are standing guard to protect and support the American people. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not their next paycheck will be coming.”
The shutdown became the longest in history on Saturday when it entered its 22nd day, breaking the previous 21-day record set in the 1990s during the Clinton administration. On Friday, some 800,000 federal workers missed their first paycheck since it began. The employees have been out on unpaid leave or forced to keep working without pay.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, which provides medical care and benefits to millions of veterans, is not one of the agencies affected by the partial shutdown. But that’s not the case for the the U.S. Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
The American Legion is doling out grants of up to $1,500 each to help Coast Guard employees facing financial hardship during the shutdown. The Legion’s national commander, Brett Reistad, earlier this month called on the administration and Congress to make an exception for the guard so its workers can collect pay during the shutdown.
“As a nonprofit, The American Legion is not capable of funding the entire Coast Guard payroll,” Reistad said.
But so far that hasn’t happened. The commandant of the guard, Adm. Karl Schultz, said in a Facebook post Sunday that guard members still are deployed around the world, including in the Middle East, Antarctica and off the coasts of Central and South America.
“While our Coast Guard workforce is deployed, there are loved ones at home reviewing family finances, researching how to get support, and weighing childcare options – they are holding down the fort,” Schultz wrote. “Please know that we are doing everything we can to support and advocate for you while your loved one stands the watch. You have not, and will not, be forgotten.”
Here’s the breakdown of veterans employed at departments and agencies affected by the shutdown, according to 2016 data from the Office of Management and Budget:
• Department of Homeland Security: 53,126
• Department of Justice: 29,246
• Department of Transportation: 20,249
• Department of Agriculture: 12,480
• Department of the Interior: 12,127
• Department of the Treasury: 10,203
• Department of Commerce: 5,636
• Department of State: 2,743
• NASA: 2,078
• Environmental Protection Agency: 1,364
• Department of Housing and Urban Development: 1,272
• Small Business Administration: 720
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