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Government shutdown threatens veteran benefits

Military families and veterans are among those feeling the greatest hurt from the partial government shutdown.
October 9, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Military families and veterans are among those feeling the greatest hurt from the partial government shutdown.

Nearly four million veterans will not receive disability checks in November if the government shutdown continues until the end of the month.

The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs also warns that another half million vets and surviving dependents could see their pension payments stopped.

"They already gave me these benefits and now they want to stop it. That's not right," said veteran Henry Martinez.

Martinez is worried about paying his rent next month if his military benefits stop. He and others at the VA Medical Center in downtown Los Angeles say they don't have any options.

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told lawmakers that will happen in just a few weeks.

"If they are furloughed and they're also recipients of disability checks, their resources go to zero. And then I have the responsibility of trying to figure out how to keep them from becoming homeless," said Shinseki.

Veteran Dave Buehler says he relies on the checks.

"It's not all that much, but it definitely helps. In today's economy, every dime helps," said Buehler.

Buehler works for the VA, and as a veteran, also gets a pension. He said he could be one of those people out on the streets. For now, he is still working and trying to help other vets in need.

"The claims that we have, all those claims people are on furlough, so no claims are being processed," said Buehler.

Separately, the Defense Department wasn't processing death benefits. The government typically pays a $100,000 benefit to military families after a service member's death. Officials say the shutdown stopped that. The House of Representatives restored the payments on Wednesday. The bill now moves to the Senate.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, reached an agreement with a nonprofit charity to pick up the costs of the payments during the government shutdown.

"Our intent was to make sure all of these expenses are covered. So just a sad thing that had happened. They should have had that $100,000 within 36 hours of the passing of their loved ones," said Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita).

It's unclear whether the Senate will take up the bill to restore the death benefit. Democrats say they don't want piecemeal legislation and insist the entire government must be reopened.


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