While the well-connected public employees union workers got a nice, fat payoff Friday, America’s disabled veterans and those looking to attend school on promised GI Bill benefits still have to wait on pins and needles.
The House voted overwhelmingly to award unearned back pay to government workers furloughed due to the government shutdown. Both the President and the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – NV) have expressed support. But the Democratic-controlled Senate still refuses to consider a House bill that funds key veterans’ benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Furthermore, while the government workers have access to unemployment insurance benefits to make up part of their incomes while they are out of work, disabled veterans and GI Bill recipients have no such recourse. Unemployment insurance does not cover foregone GI Bill benefits because of the shutdown.
It’s a remarkably sweet deal for the government employees – it is exceedingly rare for private sector employees to get back pay for times in which they are furloughed.
Some industries, such as automobile manufacturing, have built up substantial reserves and use union funds – financed by the workers themselves – to provide unemployment benefits to their own members. In this case, though, government employees will still get paid from taxpayer-funded unemployment benefit reserves – and still get their back pay.
Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs announces that while expected benefits for October 2013 have already been disbursed, it does not have enough cash on hand to pay benefits through November. Unless the Senate relents, and the President reverses his promise to veto the House bill to fund VA benefits during the shutdown, or unless Congress and the President come to a larger agreement on the budget, these benefits will be sharply reduced or even cease altogether.
That means veterans in school will very likely have to withdraw, and veterans depending on disability compensation to get by will face eviction and homelessness in nontrivial numbers. Many of these disabled veterans simply do not have the option of getting a job – their disabilities incurred in the service of their country are so severe that their ability to earn a living has been substantially compromised. That is why they are receiving disability compensation.
Disability pensions – a different kind of payment to low-income disabled veterans – are also at risk.