The federal government has partially shut down. And National Institutes of Health employees, National Park Service employees, non-essential congressional employees and all federal employees deemed nonessential are furloughed.
At the eleventh hour Sept. 27, the House and Senate unanimously passed the Pay Our Military Act. A bill with bipartisan support is rare these days, but don’t be fooled. This was a trick!
Sure, military families are receiving their pay. Let me not take away the importance of that. But as a recently separated veteran, remembering other shutdowns and debt ceiling crises and the uncertainties it caused, I understand the great angst felt by many military personnel and families.
Here is some of what is now going on because the government is closed:
• Families are unable to get medical treatment because civilian medical employees have been furloughed.
• Commissaries are closed, forcing military families (many of whom make so little that they are on WIC and food stamps) to shop at local grocery stores rather than at government subsidized commissaries, where groceries are routinely 33 percent cheaper.
• Dining facilities staffed by civilian employees are closed or overwhelmed due to civilian furloughs.
• Morale, welfare and recreation facilities are closed. Troops use these to relax, call home, tour cities they’ve never been and so on.
• Mail is not being delivered on military bases. Sure, the U.S. Postal Service is operating, but military post offices are not, because their civilian employees have been furloughed.
• Human resource functions have ceased, as they are run by civilians who have been furloughed. The irony of that would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.
And there’s more:
• The Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego continues to function and recruits must hydrate regularly. The portable toilets at the range on Camp Pendleton, however, are not being serviced, so recruits are unable to use the restroom.
• Undergraduate and graduate service schools have furloughed all civilian and federal non-uniformed instructors. That means senior officers are being paid large sums of money, but many are not attending classes or they are attending truncated classes.
Some estimates put almost three quarters of the civilian intelligence work force (not necessarily just defense, but definitely contributing to and supporting the mission) furloughed at the moment, with even greater numbers coming.
Can you imagine what danger this poses?
In our already overinflated defense budget (trust me, I was there), we are creating more work and more burden for the people who, for often very little pay, make our sons’, daughters’, brothers’, sisters’, and friends’ lives easier. This means that while they are unable to use the services to which they are entitled, they are having to work longer hours.
We owe it to the men and women who put their country ahead of themselves and their families to pay them and afford them their duly constituted benefits.
Yes, the GOP, while insisting we pay our military and praise their accomplishments, is also the GOP that voted to shut down government.
One of the most egregious actors in all this, and there have been a few, is Texas Republican and Tea Party Caucus member Randy Neugebauer, who had the gall to slap troops and veterans in the face by heading to the World War II Memorial in Washington and accosting a park ranger for enforcing closures that he voted for and helped make happen.
Then the chairman of the Republican National Committee shows up at the Memorial with a check in hand saying the committee would pay for security people to be hired so the monument would open.
Clearly, when you pull stunts like this, all show and tell for TV cameras and other media, you are shameless and absent any visible moral center.
You have insulted every veteran, from Korea to Vietnam, from Iraq to Afghanistan. You haven’t tricked any veteran who depends upon these services, services to which they are entitled, services pledged in sacred trust to them by the United States of America — and services for which many others have bled and died for on freedom’s behalf.
And, as we veterans haven’t been tricked, neither has Sen. Ted Cruz nor the House Republican leadership succeeded in tricking the rest of the country — especially our men and women still in uniform — but you have given them serious concern as to what their futures hold once they, too, are veterans.
We’re in a perilous state. Who knows how it will play out?
Shawn VanDiver is a recently separated Navy veteran and single parent. He is an emergency management and homeland security expert and is active in local and national politics. He’s an adjunct professor at two universities.