Veterans, Military Families, and the Government Shutdown

In our last post we asserted that, even amid the incivility and intractability of partisan gridlock over the government shutdown, at least both sides had agreed to fund active duty military personnel. But while it is true that American soldiers will continue to be paid, that fact alone does not tell the whole story of how the shutdown is impacting troops, veterans, and military families.

CBS News is reporting today on comments made by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki that if the shutdown continues even until the later part of October, 3.8 million veterans will not receive disability compensation in November, and 315,000 veterans and 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents will see pension payments stopped. And it is reporting that already, the government shutdown has stalled the department’s efforts to reduce the backlog of disability claims pending for longer than 125 days.

Veterans, Military Families, and the Government Shutdown

Moreover, ABC News reports that because of the shutdown, the Pentagon has been unable to pay death benefits to the families of soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan. Once the shutdown ends, explains Bob Hale, Pentagon Comptroller, the processing will begin and the payments will be made — but they will be delayed.

What this means is that the families of five soldiers slain since October 1 will be unable to travel to Dover Air Force Base in Connecticut to witness the return of their loved ones’ bodies. And that they will not receive the $100,000 check meant to offset the financial hardship incurred by those deaths.

According to FOX News, the Fisher House Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to caring for veterans and military families, has stepped forward to cover death benefits for the families of troops who’ve been killed in combat.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the Pentagon’s failure to pay appalling. Speaker of the House John Boehner has called it disgraceful. And Senator John McCain has asked: Shouldn’t we be ashamed?

Now, if only there were so much agreement on ending the government shutdown that has created this problem in the first place.

Government Shutdown, and the Consequences of Incivility

In the interest of vivifying the consequences of the current government shutdown, here are some highlights from’s list of which federal agencies and services are open, closed, and partially functional.

Government Shutdown, and the Consequences of Incivility

As a result of bipartisan stopgap legislation, active duty military personnel remain on assignment, and will continue to be paid. But only half of the nation’s 800,000 civilian Defense Department workers remain on the job.

Of NASA’s 18,250 employees, only 367 are at work this week. 212 of 4,195 employees of the Department of Education are currently working. Of the 680 employees of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 37 are currently in the office. And of the 1,460 employees of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 67 currently remain.

Only about half of the Department of Health and Human Services’ 78,198 workers are on the job during the shutdown. For the Department of Energy, it’s thirty percent — 13,814. Nineteen percent of the Department of the Interior’s 72,562 are in the office. And for the Department of Labor, it’s only eighteen percent of their 16,304.

Fox News reports that the IRS has just 9.3 percent of its workforce hanging around this week — about 9,000 workers. The Environmental Protection agency has retained just 6.6 percent of its workforce. Of more than 16,000 employees, just over 1,000 are on the job. And the Department of Commerce retains just thirteen percent of its staff.

According to the Huffington Post:

  • In Alaska, National Transportation Safety Board Investigators have all been furloughed.
  • In Colorado, the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit has shut down.
  • In Georgia, seventy-five percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 13,000 workers have been furloughed, and researchers have had to halt their studies.
  • And in Maryland, firefighters were forced to move a memorial service for a colleague killed in the line of duty when the federally run Fallen Firefighters Memorial was closed. reports on IHS Global Insight’s estimate that the cost of the government shutdown amounts to approximately $300 million per day (that’s $12.5 million per hour). While according to Businessweek, Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics estimates that if the shutdown stretches for three to four weeks, it could cost the United States 1.4 points of growth.

Government Shutdown, and the Consequences of Incivility

This — all of this — is an example of what happens when intransigence triumphs over civility in the governing process. It is what happens when we mistake adversaries for enemies, and place personal gain or partisan point-scoring ahead of maintaining a baseline of common good.

The consequences of incivility are not abstract in this case. They are measured in wages lost and services not rendered. They are measured in research not done, progress not achieved, and lives disrupted.

And it has all been entirely avoidable.