Tagged: government shutdown

Fun Friday: Party Rock! The Government is Open.

Posted by Debi Teter

Commisaries are open again. The VA is offering services to veterans. Tuition Assistance payments are going out. It’s time to have a dancy party.

 

Hopefully that made you smile. Enjoy your weekend and relax knowing we have three months before we go through this stress again.

With Tuition Assistance Dried Up, Some Colleges Picking Up the Slack

Posted by Debi Teter

militaryauthority.com army national guard student loansWith thousands of active duty servicemen and women depending on at-risk Tuition Assistance funding, some colleges are cutting them a break. Columbia College, in Columbia, Missouri, for example, has announced that it is deferring tuition costs for any servicemembers whose educational benefits are affected by the shutdown. Students can seek other means of paying their tuition. If students cannot find another way to pay their tuition, the college will allow students to withdraw with no penalty.  

Grantham University, a prominent online university based in Kansas City, Missouri, has also committed to its military students that those relying on the Tuition Assistance program or other sources of federal funding can remain enrolled pending the resolution of the shutdown. The University has announced that it will work with each affected student on a case-by-case basis to discuss available funding options including scholarships, grants, VA benefits, corporate tuition reimbursement and financial aid.

Northeastern University, likewise, has announced it will not charge enlisted active-duty servicemembers for tuition “for the time being,” – a move that grants a reprieve to some dozens students who are relying on federal resources like the GI Bill and tuition assistance programs to attend school. 

“Surely DoD has existing capacity during the government shutdown to review, process, and approve on a contingent basis pending TA applications that meet current program guidelines,” wrote Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. “This seems all the more likely in light of recent action by Congress to pay civilian employees retroactively—a measure President Obama has pledged to sign into law.“    

Austin Peay State University, in Clarksville, Tennessee, serving the Fort Campbell and Middle Tennessee/Cumberland River Valley, has also announced that it will cover the tab for active duty servicemembers. 

Because of the federal shutdown, the Department of Defense has announced that it is not funding applications for Tuition Assistance after the 1st of October. Furthermore, the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that if the shutdown is not resolved, or funding is otherwise authorized by Congress and the President by November 1, VA educational benefits will quickly dry up. Secretary Shinseki testified this week that his department has some $6 billion in benefits due November 1, but only about $2 billion on hand to fund them. 

Colleges don’t have to extend any such extension or tuition waiver – and many colleges have not done so. Every college is different, and some colleges do not have the financial resources to extend this benefit to military members.

UPDATE: Obama Signs Death Benefit Bill into Law

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

militaryauthority.com_Obama-signs-death-benefits-billPresident Obama has signed a law authorizing the payment of death benefits and gratuities. The bill reached his desk after receiving overwhelming votes in both houses of Congress. 

The President’s spokesperson, Jay Carney, had earlier stated that the law was “gimmicky” and “unnecessary,” because the Fisher House had already agreed to front the necessary cash to military families who have lost a servicemember. 

President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate have been resistant to partial funding measures passed by the House to fund other areas of government, and event to bills that would fund everything but delay the individual mandate to buy health insurance in the Affordable Care Act for one year.  

Thus far, the House has been loathe to pass anything with funding for Obamacare as is in it, while the Senate and the President have opposed passing or signing anything without it. The three exceptions so far have been the Pay Our Military Act, a law authorizing retroactive payment to furloughed federal workers once the government revs up again, and this one.

Obama Rejects Death Benefits Bill

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

militaryauthority.com obama rejects death benefits billPresident Obama has rejected a bill passed by both houses of Congress that would fund the death gratuity and death benefits normally paid out to beneficiaries of deceased servicemembers. 

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill that would authorize the Secretary of Defense to pay the two benefits: A tax-free $100,000 death benefit and an additional $10,050 death gratuity. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent. 

All the bill needs is the President’s signature to become law. 

The White House, however, opposes the measure, calling it “gimmicky” and “unnecessary.” White House spokesperson Jay Carney has said that the bill is “unnecessary” because the well-known military charity, Fisher House, has agreed to front the necessary money until the government is funded again.

Fisher House’s offer would cover the two government-funded death benefits (but not SGLI life insurance death benefits), plus necessary travel and lodging expenses associated with the death of the servicemember, burial and memorial activities, etc. Families often travel to Dover Air Force Base to receive their loved one’s remains as they are flown back to the United States. 

My view: The President’s actions in opposing this bill, passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses, is petty, vindictive, ridiculous and destructive. Signing the bill into law would not alter the larger logic of either the shutdown or the looming debate over the debt limit, scheduled to come to a head over the next week. 

Moreover, unless the DoD is willing to pay Fisher House or another charity an above-market rate of interest, it’s a waste of capital. Fisher House has better uses for its capital than to provide no or low-interest rate loans to the government, and the money that Fisher House has tied up awaiting government funding could be used to fund a new house or provide additional beds in shortage areas, or to fund more follow-on services to wounded veterans transitioning to life in their home towns, far from VA hospitals or military bases. 

Instead this capital is being diverted to do a vital job that the President, throwing a temper tantrum, refuses to do, despite the overwhelming majority of both houses of Congress, and the overwhelming sentiment of the American people. 


What do you think about this rejection of the bill? Is it justified since Fisher House has stepped in or is it an insult to our servicemembers and an irresponsible move by the government? Tell us in the comments!

Fun Friday: Government Shutdown Edition

Posted by Kelli McKinney

militaryauthority.com 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

militaryauthority.com 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

militaryauthority.com 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

militaryauthority.com 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

militaryauthority.com 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 Debi Teter

militaryauthority.com 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. 

 

Education

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.