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President again invokes military pay, vet benefits in looming budget fight

WASHINGTON – Another big budget showdown is brewing in Washington, and once again veterans’ benefits and troops’ paychecks are being touted as possible casualties of the fight.

On Monday, President Barack Obama said that if congressional Republicans don’t agree to raise the country’s debt ceiling, it could force a government shutdown and deal a crippling blow to the national economy. He said it also could mean “Social Security checks and veterans’ benefits will be delayed” and “We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners.”

During the height of the political infighting in 2011, White House officials made similar warnings every few months as lawmakers from both parties argued over how to handle federal budget issues. The Defense Department offered guidance noting that paychecks could be delayed and certain non-essential programs could be halted if a partial government shutdown took place.

At the same time, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a two-page guidance on which services would be available during a shutdown. Regional training offices would be closed, new benefits claims would be slowed, and veterans burials would be delayed if a shutdown occurs. However, all medical facilities and clinics would remain open, and existing benefits claims would continue to be paid.

The uncertainty surrounding the 2011 fights was so frustrating for military and veterans advocates that they pushed for several pieces of legislation to exempt servicemembers’ paychecks and veterans’ benefits from future fights, basically guaranteeing the checks would continue to go out no matter what else had to be halted.

But none of those proposals became law. So expect to hear many more threats to veterans and military bank accounts as the year continues.

Related: 

Military community exasperated at prospect of prolonged shutdown threats

Veterans field guide to government shutdown (PDF)

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