Disabled veteran from N.J. fears loss of benefits amid shutdown
The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.
PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. — Six years ago, Staff Sgt. Kevin Snow worried about how he would support his family after a mortar strike in Iraq left him disabled. Today, Snow, an Army veteran, is once again worried, but this time he is losing sleep over the partial government shutdown.
Snow, 33, of Egg Harbor Township, relies on his disability payments to support his wife and five children. If the shutdown continues, there is a possibility those payments — about $3,400 per month for Snow — will disappear.
On Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told the House Veterans' Affairs Committee that the department's funds would be exhausted by the end of October.
"Unless I can provide mandatory funding to make the account solvent again, (on) Nov. 1 I will not send checks out," Shinseki said, explaining that the checks total more than $6 billion in disability, compensation and pension payments.
The failure to send out those checks would affect an estimated 5 million veterans and their families.
"It's something I'm really worried about," Snow said.
Snow was 27 when he suffered a brain injury, a torn eardrum and shrapnel in his knee, for which he earned a Purple Heart. He also suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
He is classified as unemployable because he is listed as 100 percent disabled with the VA, and that means "I can't go out and get another job to replace (the money)."
"I feel like the government is using us like political pawns," Snow said.
The government shutdown began Oct. 1, and officials managed to keep funding pay for active duty soldiers, but no such provision was made for veterans.
"It's almost like us veterans aren't important. It's like a slap in the face," said Snow, who identifies himself politically as an independent. "The government made a promise to its wounded veterans and they aren't keeping up their end."
The House has passed a VA military-construction bill that fully funded VA operations, but Shinseki testified that the bill would be only a temporary solution, as several of the VA's federal partners would remain hostage to the budget deadlock. The Department of Labor, he said, helps with veteran employment, and the Internal Revenue Service is integral to processing compensation checks.
Shinseki said that a bill to fund all aspects of the government, not just certain programs, which House Republicans are trying to do, was the only way forward for federal agencies. The president and congressional Democrats have insisted upon that approach, but the House Republican leadership has refused to consider it.
"What is best for veterans, and for all of us right now, is a budget for the entire federal government," Shinseki said. "Let us get back to work. The sooner we do it, the faster we get back to full speed."
The Associated Press and MCT News Services contributed to this report.