— By JIM VINES
Despite assurances that veterans benefits and services will be exempt from the budget cuts triggered March 1, veterans and their families will share the suffering along with military counterparts.
The result could mean more homeless veterans, less help for those looking for work and tens of thousands of furloughed veterans struggling to make ends meet.
There is a very large concern about the secondary effects on veterans programs nationwide.
VA programs and payouts are exempt from the mandated spending cuts. The White House has promised that disability benefits, veterans education funds and health care services will continue uninterrupted. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has warned on several occasions that everyone in America will feel the effects of sequestration, including veterans. Department officials have deflected questions about specific hardships facing veterans, but other agencies have detailed where the problems will emerge.
About 350,000 veterans work for the Department of Defense, comprising about 44 percent of the civilian workforce. Nearly all of them will face once-a-week furloughs starting in late April, as the Pentagon tries to make up a multi-billion dollar shortfall in funding between March and October. The furloughs represent a 20 percent loss for veterans, many of whom re-entered the federal workforce assuming their paychecks and job stability were guarantees.
Tens of thousands of veterans working in other state and federal agencies could face pay cuts as well. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has announced planned furloughs of up to 14 days to help fill their cuts. More than one in four employees of that agency are former military.
Veterans without jobs will likely have a more difficult time finding one. Department of Labor leaders say the transition assistance program, which includes labor and defense department funds, will have to reduce operations, leaving soon to be veterans under prepared for a return to life. The Veterans Employment and Training program will lose about $4 million over the next six months, and state grants for veterans jobs programs will also be reduced. That’s a significant blow at a time when unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans remains well above national rates. Nationally, more than 844,000 veterans were out of work last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In addition, officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development say sequestration would slash housing vouchers and rental assistance programs for veterans. That money, designed to keep unemployed and veterans off the streets, won’t be available to provide a safety net for financially troubled veterans. This could also put a dent into the White House plan to end homelessness in the next two years.
Protected veterans initiatives will be hit with collateral damage. Medical records sharing and suicide prevention programs run jointly by the military and the VA will be pinched because only the VA money will be protected. Pentagon programs will see funding cuts just like all other defense accounts.
VA hospitals and physicians won’t be affected, but military doctors will. For tens of thousands of veterans still receiving health care through Tricare retiree offerings, that will mean the same longer waits for appointments and reduced care that is facing military members. Ultimately, that could end up forcing more veterans into the VA health care system, adding pressure to the taxed system.
Be frugal in the meantime with finances. Don’t quit work because the work environment isn’t ideal. It’s easier to find a job when having one. Use the GI Bill to help advance chances for better employment.
AmVets welcomes new members, Larry Ward, Mike Norman and Noelle Egeland. Remember to wear your green Sunday.
Speak to you again next week.
Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133.