Archive for October, 2013

Fun Friday: Government Shutdown Edition

Posted by Kelli McKinney fun friday twitter shutdown commentsIn light of the government shutdown, here are some of the best things we’ve found on twitter regarding this glorious example of democracy in action… 

DENISE ™ @denisealondra

“After the sequester, they will cut back on airport security. We will have to pat ourselves down.” @LateShow #shutdownjokes


Adam Armus @AdamArmus

Grand Canyon closed. Visit Congress for alternative gaping hole. #ShutdownSuggestions


The Daily Show @TheDailyShow

Museums are closed. Hit up nursing homes to see old stuff instead. #ShutdownSuggestions


The Canada Party @theCanadaParty

Move to Canada. Open 24 hrs. #ShutdownSuggestions

Danielle @thatdanielle

Note to self: Do not get infectious disease today. Or apparently tomorrow. And possibly the day after.


The Milky Way @milkscone

have you tried turning it off and on again? #ShutdownSuggestions


Cory Confesses @CoryConfesses

@TheDailyShow Will my taxes be prorated during the shutdown? #ShutdownSuggestions


Making light of these circumstances is just one way of coping. But on a serious note, we don’t think that 800,000 people without jobs is funny, nor do we think that the loss of veterans programs, benefits, or military paychecks isn’t a very serious situation. Our thoughts are with all those directly impacted by the furloughs. Which, truly, is all of us.

We the people must look after each other. Those that are able, please consider donating to your local food pantries, shelters, churches, or other support organizations.

VFW “Disgusted” With Current Elected Leadership

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk veterans of foreign wars shutdown statementThe Veterans of Foreign Wars has released a statement saying it is “disgusted” with the current crop of politicians in Washington. “Yesterday’s news that the government will not transport or make a death assistance payment to grieving military families was the last straw,” the statement read. “It is absolutely appalling and nothing short of a travesty that elected officials continue to receive paychecks and benefits while not providing for those who deserve it most.”

The statement, attributed to the VFW’s National Commander, William A. Thien, went on: “Because of failed leadership, we have 56 closed Department of Veterans Affairs regional offices, 7,000 furloughed employees, and more than 4 million disabled veterans and survivors who were told next month’s disability or survivor benefits check will be delayed. We also have a hypocritical National Park Service that closes our nation’s war memorials to veterans and a federal government that continues to make foreign aid payments while our own national security is threatened because Congress has failed to pass a defense budget or put an end to the sequester. 

This is totally unacceptable and disgraceful that our elected leaders in Washington would allow this to happen,” said Thien. “We need leadership, not more rhetoric, and if the government is unable to take care of veterans, then the government should quit creating us.”

VA Secretary: Benefits to Cease November 1 If Shutdown Not Resolved

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk shinseki VA shutdown November  1 testimonyVA benefits will cease as of November 1st, unless the President and Congress agree to fund the agency, or the government shutdown is resolved. That was the testimony on Wednesday, October 9th, from Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. 

According to Secretary Shinseki, the Department of Veterans Affairs is due to pay out $6.25 billion in claims on November 1. But the Department has only $2 billion on hand to pay them with. The money would be used to pay tuition for GI Bill beneficiaries and for retroactive claims. Stipends of up to $1,700 per month for veterans attending school would cease. Claims processing for compensation, pension, education, vocational rehabilitation, and employment benefits will be suspended due to lack of funding. Once mandatory funds are depleted at the end of this month, nearly 5,600 Veterans a day will not receive a decision on their disability claims.

This is despite furloughing some 7,800 claims processors – an act that is already beginning to result in an increase in the stubborn backlog of past-due (more than 125 days old) claims. Half of those furloughed are veterans themselves, said Shinseki. 

Additionally, if the shutdown continues through late October, compensation payments to more than 3.8 million Veterans will halt. These include thousands of Veterans who have the most severe disabilities. Payments will also stop for over 364,000 survivors and over 1,200 children receiving special benefits, such as children with spina bifida born to Vietnam Veterans and certain Korean War Veterans as well as children of women Veterans with birth defects, the Secretary said. Furthermore, pension payments will stop for almost 315,000 Veterans and over 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents.

The Secretary also said that while they still had 13,000 claims processors on the job, paid with left-over funds from FY 2013, that money would be exhausted by the end of the month. At that point, the Department of Veterans Affairs would have to lay off all but 1,500 employees. The remaining workers would be assigned to staff call centers and receive and time-stamp new benefits applications. But no more applications will be processed until the Department is funded again. 

The House of Representatives has already passed a bill that would provide for partial funding of the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – Nevada) has indicated that his coalition will not allow the bill to come up for a vote. The President has also said that he would veto the bill if it came to his desk. 

According to Shinseki’s testimony, however, full services to veterans would not restore completely even if the Department itself is fully funded. This is because the Department’s functions integrate with other federal departments that are themselves affected by the shutdown. 

Shinseki’s full testimony is available here.

Government Stiffs Gold Star Families

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk hagel no death gratuity gold star families shutdownThe families of at least seventeen American servicemen and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan since October 1 have not yet received their death gratuity payments. This money, amounting to $100,000 per individual, plus an additional death benefit of $10,050, is normally paid out via wire transfer within a couple of days of a servicemember’s death. However, the Department of Defense has announced it has no plans to pay the benefit – unless Congress first changes the law. 

At issue: A technical reading of the Pay Our Military Act, a law that passed both houses of Congress last week and gained the President’s signature. 

The Secretary of Defense has announced that because of the way the law was written, he has no legal authority to pay death gratuity benefits, nor any other benefits payable to the families of military servicemembers, as opposed to the servicemembers themselves. 

Congressional Republicans, for their part, argue that the Secretary’s interpretation of the law is flawed, and that he should pay the benefits immediately. Season to taste with partisan vitriol. 

Who’s right?  

The Secretary, in this case. 

Why? We simply refer to the plain text of the law, which only authorizes payment to three categories: 

    • Members serving under Title 10 orders, including reserve component servicemembers. 
    • Payments made to DoD and Department of Homeland Security personnel providing support to members of the Armed Forces (which the law restricts to those serving under Title 10 orders)
    • Payments to contractors providing services to the same group of servicemembers as above. 


That’s it. 

Nothing in the law specifies a Congressional authorization for payments to family members. 

The law also halts the free transportation of family members of deceased to Dover AFB to receive the remains of their loved ones. 

The House expects to have an additional appropriations bill allowing the payments up for a vote by the end of the week.

Democrats have not as yet said they will support the bill. They have announced opposition to other separate appropriations bills over the last week, preferring to hang on to their bargaining power for a larger deal. 

However, they readily passed the Pay Our Military Act at the first opportunity in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the President quickly signed it. Our projection is that this is not the hill the Democrats want to die on, and that the additional appropriations will be passed quickly. 

That’s cold comfort to these families, though, who need the cash now. Families who lose loved ones frequently have to take extensive time off work, travel, sometimes buy suits, rent facilities for memorial services, and have a variety of other expenses. SGLI may or may not be a suitable replacement. For example, it may take longer to pay out, or it may go to a different individual than the death gratuity. In the worst-case scenario, the servicemember may choose not to take out an SGLI policy and keep a few extra dollars per month. In that case, the family is left only with the death gratuity. 

To add insult to injury, the Secretary of Defense is saying the payment of residual unpaid pay and allowances, or income in respect of a decedent, is not authorized by Congress, either.

House Passes Bill to Fund VA

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk house funds va during shutdownThe House of Representatives moved to fund the Veterans Administration through the shutdown and into fiscal year 2014. The House passed the bill, H.J. Res. 72., on Thursday, October 3rd, with overwhelming Republican support. Democrat opposition was strong, but they still got 35 Democrats to sign on as well. The final vote was 259 in favor, 157 opposed. 

The bill, dubbed the “Honoring Our Promise to America’s Veterans Act,” restores funding for disability compensation, monthly stipends under the GI Bill and survivors’ benefits. 

The bill required a two-thirds majority for passage. It failed to pass on a first attempt on Tuesday, when just 33 House Democrats voted in favor. 

The House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, has passed a series of bills providing partial funding for various popular segments of government. This tactic puts Democrats in an uncomfortable position, as it forces Democrats to either go on record voting against funding popular government programs or provide their leadership, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Obama, progressively less leverage with which to negotiate with Republicans to keep the Affordable Care Act intact. 

“Today, more than 160 House Democrats chose to put politics before the needs of America’s veterans and their loved ones,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R – FL) in a statement. “November payments to veterans and their survivors for a variety of earned benefits are now in jeopardy in the event of a prolonged government shutdown. Our veterans have already gone above and beyond for our nation. The last thing they deserve is for the country they courageously defended to abandon them. It’s unfortunate that some in Congress seem to be fighting to ensure that happens.”

The bill is not a complete restoration. The House did not authorize funding for IT, nor the VA Inspector General’s office, the National Cemetery Administration and for state veterans homes. 

The total funding package for benefits also results in a $6 billion reduction compared to its own 2014 funding appropriation back in June, according to reporting from Rick Maze at the Military Times.

The Democratic-controlled Senate does not, however, plan to take up the bill, so its own Senators will not be forced into the vote. The White House staff has also indicated the President will veto the bill if it reaches his desk. 

Curiously, the Department of Veterans Affairs itself is not arguing to make the case for its own funding. 


The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has scheduled a hearing tomorrow, October 9th, at 10:30 AM, to gather information and testimony regarding the impact of the shutdown on veterans and their families. 

Shutdown! How Military Families Are Affected

Posted by Charlotte Webster military families affected by shutdownIf you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that most non-essential government functions have shut down effective the start of the 2014 fiscal year, because Congress and the President were unable to agree on a budget. 

I say “most” non-essential government functions, because this Administration obviously deems it critically important to its functioning that we pay a number of federal workers to erect barricades to the open-air WWII Memorial, wire them shutand threaten our older veterans with arrest if they visit. 

Commissary workers, however? They aren’t considered essential at all. At least not in the United States, though overseas commissaries will remain open.  


Military Pay

Military pay for active duty troops will continue through the shutdown. Congress and the President agreed to fund salaries for uniformed military and selected civilian employees at the beginning of this week. However, the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, interpreted the Congressional bill to exclude members of the National Guard, including full-time military technicians. This news came as a surprise to some Congressional Republicans who passed the bill: “I believe along with many others that he has improperly furloughed the National Guard employees,” said Candice Miller, (R – Michigan). “That was certainly not the intent of the act that we passed. For them to be furloughed — I quite frankly was stunned when he did that after we passed that bill.


Is retiree pay affected?

Not directly by the shutdown. Retiree pay comes out of a different pot of money than the one Congress is fighting over now. However, even if a budget is approved, we have another Congressional battle looming over the debt limit. Unless Congress approves additional borrowing, the federal government will no longer have access to the 40 cents out of ever dollar it’s been borrowing to finance spending. At that point, all bets are off, and nearly everything goes on the table. Military retiree pay could be reduced or even eliminated under that scenario. However, our view is that the threat of such a shutdown will drive both sides in Congress to strike a deal of some sort to avoid it. 

If you are distressed by money problems, or feeling depressed and suicidal, rest easy: The counselors at Military OneSource are still phoning it in. They will be happy to refer you to other federal agencies which are now closed. 


Child Services

If you’re stressed because you have small children and you need assistance with child care, again, all bets are off. The DoD has helpfully suggested you call your local child care activity on base for further guidance. Generally, federal Child Development Centers will remain open, according to the Military Family Association. However, school-aged care programs may be rolled back or eliminated in your area unless attached to a CDC. 

DoD schools remain open. 

The exchanges will be open for business. AAFES and the Navy-Marine Corps Exchange do not receive federal appropriations, so don’t rely on Congress for anything. 



Tuition Assistance – the same TA benefit that the DoD tried to strangle last spring to save money, will grind to a halt. No benefits will be disbursed for new classes until further notice.

Education centers are closed. This includes computer labs and counseling centers.  

MyCAA, or My Career Assistance Accounts, are closed to new requests until further notice. However, military spouses with benefits approved before October 1 are good to go. You can attend class. More information available at the SECO website here. Or call 800-342-9647. 


Health Care

You may see a reduction of hours at military clinics and hospitals. However, inpatient, emergency and dental care operations at TRICARE clinics will continue, as will TRICARE’s private sector operations. So you should still be able to see a non-military doctor if that provider is within the TRICARE system. 

If you have an appointment you made before the shutdown, TRICARE officials encourage you to call to confirm it. Your clinic’s hours may have changed since the shutdown. 


Travel Claims

TRICARE cannot process travel claims under TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Combat-Related Specialty Care during the shutdown. You can still file, a claim, but new claims won’t be approved until the shutdown ends. 

DoD to Deployed Sports Fans: DROP DEAD

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk no sports for deployed troopsThe Armed Forces Network has cut off access to American pro sports programming until further notice, due to the current government shutdown. The announcement comes just as the Major League Baseball playoffs are getting underway. 

Meanwhile, the same DoD that funds the Armed Forces Network found the funds to keep the golf course open at Andrews Air Force Base – the same golf course frequented by President Obama, members of Congress, and senior officers at the nearby Pentagon. 

The Armed Forces Network has therefore reduced itself to strictly airing “news” stories and public service announcements reminding servicemembers to wear condoms and report waste, fraud and abuse. 

The announcement affects not just baseball, but all major sports programming. 

A spokesperson for the Armed Services Network told the Stars & Stripes that they are unable to continue providing sports coverage because of federal workers who have been furloughed.

We’re calling foul. 

It requires far less manpower to flip a switch to allow a satellite feed through a control station and leave it on than it does to operate a news service. I say this as someone who has actually run four separate TV channels simultaneously in a control booth providing live feeds with the technology of 20 years ago. 

There is the matter of broadcast rights. It would surprise us if Major League Baseball was not willing to make a deal to make the playoffs and World Series available to our troops in Afghanistan. If that were really the issue, we would expect that the AFN spokesperson would have referred to it already. 

Some REMFs may argue that servicemembers can watch the games via the Internet, or through civilian satellite networks. Those individuals probably have not been deployed to austere locations. 

We have the Early Bird news, now. We have Internet news sources. We have a chain of command and an NCO support channel to disseminate mission-critical information. None of them can bring the World Series to our sports fans deployed. 

Cut the BS. Stop the lies. 

Air the games.

Military Photobombs

Posted by Charlotte Webster

The government shutdown is still underway and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Even though military pay is safe, stress levels are still high. Commissaries are closed. Tuition assistance has been delayed. 

So for today’s edition of Fun Friday, we decided to go all out for laughs. Here are a few of our favorite military photobombs from across the internet. We hope they make you smile. And if you have one you’d like to share, post it on our Facebook page for all to see!


First, the original military photobomb from the Civil War. Thanks to for this classic. (It’s a fun site…spend some time there!) photobomb


Next, a lesson in why you shouldn’t leave your date out of your photos from

Here’s proof from that not all photos need a caption. photobomb

Another of our favorite sites,, reported the frustration the Army’s Public Affairs Office has with photobombs in combat-related photos because they they render the photos unusable. We understand, but we can find a way to put them to use! photobomb


And finally, from, here’s a pilot who took photobombing into his own hands. photobomb


Happy Friday, everyone!

Three Networking Rules to Ditch Now

Posted by Christine A. Shelly 3 networking rules to ditch nowThe prospect of networking is enough to make most people a little uncomfortable. But there’s no denying the power of relationships when you’re competing for a job or a promotion. At we’ve made it our mission to make quality education affordable and attainable for working adults. As a result, most of the students we serve are already working at least part time – many are working full-time in the military, federal government, private sector, as law enforcement or first responders or entrepreneurs

But if you’re working and serving full time and going to school, where are you going to find time to build your professional network? That’s a question we hear a lot. The good news is that since you’re working, you’ve already begun building your network. You’re off to a great start!

There are lots of resources available that offer networking tips and guidance. Many of them are exceptional. But there are a few pieces of advice that should be taken with a grain of salt. Three commonly-followed rules that you should break (or at least bend a bit) include:

Rule #1:  Be Aggressive.

There’s a lot to be said for setting goals and going after them with enthusiasm, persistence and confidence. But when you’re trying to build a professional network, there’s a fine line between persistence and stalking. 


  • Do your research and identify people who are connected with your desired field of employment.
  • Join professional associations that are relevant and well-regarded in your field.
  • Not be afraid to introduce yourself to new people and ask intelligent questions about their industry or line of work
  • Ask your contacts to introduce you to people with whom you might have common goals, backgrounds or interests.


  • Doggedly contact people you’ve never met with requests for information, introductions, or job interviews.
  • Bombard professional groups with spam, blanket-send your resume to boards of directors “for their reference.”
  • Under any circumstances just “show up” at someone’s place of business without an invitation or prior appointment. That’s a pretty good way to earn yourself a restraining order.

Read Christine’s other 2 tips on Google+ and leave us your tips in the comments.