THE BLOG
09/30/2013 03:06 pm ET | Updated Nov 30, 2013

How a Shutdown Affects Troops and Veterans

By now, the myriad of articles that examine how a Republican government shutdown would affect people has a lot of folks confused, even scared. The truth of the matter is, we know who will be impacted by a shutdown by Republicans, and we know it will be bad. The degree to which it will be bad is what is up in the air, as various government departments finalize their plans for the shutdown event.

When it comes to troops and veterans, much of that holds true. We know they're going to be hurt. We know our national security will be hurt. But, we won't really know how bad, until we see it. The question becomes, then, do we really want to tempt fate, to find out?

Here are four impacts the shutdown will have. As a veteran, myself, heading up a veterans group with over 360,000 supporters, I don't think I'd like to find out just how bad this could get.

VETERANS CLAIMS - The Department of Veterans Affairs is largely funded a year in advance of its budgetary need. So, unlike many other departments, they mostly have the funding they need to keep open. That's the good news. The bad news is that the part of the VA that isn't funded in advance means they may have to furlough 20,000 claims processors. We've all read about the backlog of medical claims. The Department has actually started to make tremendous headway to eliminate it. Furlough those 20,000 claims processors, and not only will claims face greater delay, but the backlog could grow again, erasing all the progress that's been made. So, after this is all said and done, and we hear about how the backlog has swelled again, be sure to send a 'thank you' card to House Republicans, for making that happen.

MILITARY HEALTH CARE - Another area that could be greatly impacted is the care at military hospitals and health installations. We know that during the 1995 shutdown, military hospitals canceled appointments, and even surgeries, as civilian workers were sent home. The severity of the situation may vary from hospital to hospital. Some may only see Active Duty troops, and not see any veterans, Guard, or Reserve, or their families, who are on TRICARE, the military health care system. Some hospitals may only offer emergency or acute care. Some may be able to continue offering pharmacy services. Some may not. If Republicans continue the shutdown, and further cuts need to be made by military hospitals, the situation will undoubtedly become worse.

MILITARY READINESS - While our active duty military will continue to report for duty, another area that the Department of Defense may have to cut, out of necessity, is training for our Guard and Reserve. Again, this happened in 1995. A number of states are already preparing for the possibility of not being able to train their National Guard troops. It is tough to say just how much this will impact military readiness, and rotations of our troops serving overseas, especially in Afghanistan. But, do we sincerely want to find out how badly the readiness of our Guard has been impacted, when there's a terrorist attack they must respond to, or a natural disaster?

OTHER MILITARY SERVICES - Families bear the brunt of a loved one being deployed. Losing a mother or father, husband or wife, can cause a lot of strife. For those living on base, services from commissaries to family support services could face cuts. While, to civilians, this may seem like a minor inconvenience, think about being a temporary single mother with a couple of kids. Having your market shut down, or backed up with long lines, is really the last thing you need right now. For those coping with a lot of stress, and in need of talking to a counselor, finding that they've been sent home only compounds the stress of having their loved one overseas, at a time we should be helping alleviate that stress. Again, the impact of a shutdown on these services will vary, but we know it will be bad, and only get worse, as time goes on.

The sad irony of all of this, of course, is that House Republicans feel like tempting fate, by forcing a government shutdown, all so they can defund a program -- the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare -- that will help over 2 million uninsured veterans and veteran family members, have reasonable access to private health insurance. Undoubtedly, starting Tuesday, many of them will sign up for private insurance, by virtue of Obamacare. And so, every day that House Republicans demand a defunding of Obamacare after that will be a demand to yank away that readily available access from veterans and their families.

It's hard to see how anybody wins, especially troops, veterans, and their families, the longer the House Republicans pursue their "shutdown the government" strategy.

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