With the government shutdown having ended after more than two weeks of nonstop finger-pointing from both sides of the aisle in DC, let us not forget those who have served this country for ideals they believe in — and the effect that this mess made on their livelihoods in such a short amount of time.
And of course it could all happen again in January, when the deal reached by the president and Congress expires.
During the shutdown, a majority of our veterans within Queens and the rest of the city as well as nationwide feared they would not have received their much-needed benefits such as Veterans Affairs disability compensation, education assistance and the medical services of the VA centers throughout the city and country, just to name a few of the services offered to help sustain their unique living conditions.
As the shutdown continued, vital VA employees including veterans worried about being sent home without pay or having to work on an “I owe you” from the government. With less than 100 percent manpower the VA would not have been able to operate at full capacity, and it’s already struggling to medically service our veteran population on an efficient and timely basis — especially since we are currently moving into the 12th year of operations in Afghanistan. There is an increasing and constant flow of veterans coming home from this conflict. Also, let us not forget our warriors who fought in the Persian Gulf, Vietnam, Korea and World War II, who also patronize these facilities.
Furthermore, most of our veterans who utilize these medical facilities have suffered various physical and mental injuries as a result of military service and cannot find work — or can’t even get out of bed — because of these debilitating injuries would not have received their vital compensation checks if the shutdown went on. The lack of these checks that help these veterans survive could have potentially left them stranded without a roof over their heads or food on the table for themselves and the families they support.
Also, let us not forget those service members who have decided to further their education using the post-9/11 GI Bill, which is a federal program helping veterans pay for college or vocational school. At this point, most if not all veterans have had their tuition bills paid up for the fall 2013 semester, but they felt the impending danger of potentially missing their monthly living stipend, which is primarily used to help support the veteran and his or her family in paying the rent while attending college full-time. Without this benefit our veterans would have to figure out a contingency plan to help support their family, including the possibility of having to drop their classes in search of work.
Finally, it is quite understandable that we all as American citizens must continue to buckle down due to the country’s financial restraints. But we still must spend on programs that support our citizens, especially our veterans. Our veterans must be counted toward the top of the list to be taken care of for doing the jobs that many would not even think about.
Don’t forget that even though the government has reopened for business does not mean that we are in the clear. This deal just means that we are floating above water until January.
Our policy makers must learn to put aside ideological differences and truly serve the people who elected them into their respective offices. If they are responsible enough to send young men and women into harm’s way, then they must have the responsibility to take care of them when and if they return to a society that may love or hate them for following orders based on the decisions these same leaders made.
Ryan S. Graham is Legislative Committee Chairman for the Queens County Veterans of Foreign Wars, an Air Force veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and reached the rank of senior airman, and a resident of South Ozone Park.