As a nation, we pride ourselves on supporting our military veterans, men and women who have dedicated years of their lives, risking both life and limb, to defend our freedom and uphold our values. It is, therefore, both disheartening and alarming to witness the adverse impact a government shutdown can have on this distinguished group. With approximately 30% of the federal workforce being veterans, a government shutdown not only disrupts essential services but also risks marginalizing those who have already given so much.
A government shutdown entails the cessation of non-essential discretionary federal programs and services, potentially leaving thousands of federal employees, including veterans, without work and pay. For veterans who rely on stable federal employment to support themselves and their families, a shutdown can mean financial instability and uncertainty. This disruption undermines the transition many veterans make from military to civilian life, a time when consistent employment and support are crucial.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a lifeline for millions of veterans, providing vital healthcare, support services and benefits. While a shutdown may not completely halt the operations of the VA, due to mandatory funding for some essential services, it could severely strain its resources and workforce. Delays in processing claims, interruptions in research, and reduced availability of support staff could all follow, ultimately affecting the quality and timeliness of the care and services that our veterans receive.
During a government shutdown, the VA might be forced to prioritize critical healthcare services, potentially delaying elective procedures and routine appointments. For veterans dealing with both physical and mental health issues, these delays can exacerbate their conditions and set back their progress. Mental health services, in particular, are vital for many veterans, and interruptions or reductions in such services could have severe and lasting consequences.
Veterans depending on disability compensation, GI Bill benefits and pensions could also experience delays in payments or disruptions in services during a government shutdown. This can result in financial hardship, particularly for those who are wholly reliant on these benefits for their livelihood. Housing support, education benefits, and vocational rehabilitation services might also be jeopardized, undermining the long-term well-being of veterans and their families.
As veterans turn to community resources and non-profits to bridge the gap left by interrupted federal services, these organizations may become overwhelmed. The increased demand for housing, food and healthcare can strain local resources, leaving communities struggling to meet the needs of both veterans and non-veterans alike.
As we consider the potential impact of a government shutdown on our veterans, it is imperative that we prioritize bipartisan solutions to prevent such disruptions. We owe it to our veterans to ensure that the services and support they rely on remain stable and consistent, regardless of political disagreements. A government shutdown hurts us all, but it is a particularly harsh blow to those who have served our country, and we must work together to shield our veterans from such unnecessary hardship.
Michael Embrich is a veteran, former member of the secretary of Veterans Affairs’ Advisory Committee on the Readjustment of Veterans, and former congressional staffer.