U.S. Has Already Defaulted – On Its Promise to the Troops
Congress and the White House continue to argue over the debt ceiling, but they’ve already defaulted on their obligations to the military. By Alexander Nicholson
Congress, the administration and the media all continue to worry about and warn of the dire consequences of the United States defaulting on its debt obligations. But this debate misses a bigger and much more important story: we have already defaulted -- on our obligation to our troops, veterans, and their families. As politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington continue to grandstand, America continues to bleed during the shutdown. The federal government has been eviscerated by Congress's inability agree on a budget or continuing resolution, and the band-aid bills Congress has passed in the meantime have failed to soften the impact.
Congress passed the Pay Our Military Act to ensure that service members continue to get paid on time during the shutdown, yet at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) we have heard from numerous troops on active duty who did not receive their pay as expected. Others in the National Guard and Reserve have had their trainings canceled, resulting in missed pay as well.
Tens of thousands of Defense Department civilian workers who provide critical support for our military were furloughed, despite Congress's insistence that it intended to fund their continued employment in one of its hastily-passed piecemeal bills. But DoD interpreted the law to mean that those workers had to be furloughed anyway. They were subsequently called back to work in support of ongoing defense operations, but who knows for how long.
Now DoD has determined that it does not have the legal authority to pay out death benefits to the families of troops killed in the line of duty during the shutdown. This is the ultimate betrayal by our country of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. It is a disgrace, and it needs to be rectified immediately.
Make no mistake about it - we have already defaulted on our obligations. The moment a service member did not receive his or her earned pay, we defaulted. The moment a fallen service member's family was refused transport to Dover Air Force Base to greet their fallen warrior's body or denied the customary so-called "death gratuity" benefit to help cover immediate funeral and bereavement expenses, we defaulted. And even the moment a veteran had to worry about whether the government would pay out his or her disability benefits, we defaulted on our most sacred of obligations.
This shutdown has to end, and it must end immediately. America is bleeding, and band-aids are not enough. But Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time, and it must make good on these defaulted commitments immediately while it continues to sort out how the shutdown will end.
Alex Nicholson is legislative director for Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America.
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