Disabled veterans and supporters plan ‘virtual march’ to protect benefits

The nation’s largest organization representing disabled veterans and their families is organizing a “virtual march on Washington” on Facebook to protect veterans’ compensation and benefits from being targeted for cuts in the ongoing debt crisis negotiations.

The online protest, set for Wednesday, comes as veterans groups express increasing anger that veterans are being used in a game of brinksmanship.

“The uncertainty over what actions our government might take is causing unnecessary and harmful anxiety in the American public at large and veterans and their families specifically,” said Barry A. Jesinoski, executive director of the Washington headquarters of Disabled American Veterans, sponsor of the protest.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), echoing comments from President Obama, warned this month that payments for veterans benefits could halt if there is no deal to raise the debt ceiling. Republicans have called such comments scare tactics.

“What we’ve heard is that if the debt limit isn’t raised, the government may not have enough money to pay its obligations, including veterans benefits checks,” said Garry Augustine, the DAV’s national service director. “Whether it’s accurate or not we’re not sure, but it makes people nervous when they hear it.”

“It is outrageous that disabled veterans have become political pawns in the fight over how to increase the government’s borrowing authority,” DAV National Commander Wallace E. Tyson said in a statement.

Thousands of virtual marchers have registered for the online protest, according to the DAV. The virtual march will take place primarily on Facebook, but links to participate will also be available at www.dav.org and on Twitter (hashtag #March4Vets).

Veterans, family members and supporters will be encouraged to record and post personal videos discussing their benefits and links for e-mails to elected officials. They also will be given the opportunity to post on the official Facebook pages of the White House and members of Congress.

“This is not about Congress or the president — this is about veterans and their families and survivors,” Jesinoski said. “We need to make it clear to the entire federal government and the American public that the United States can never again turn its back on veterans. This is about standing up for veterans.”

His group’s concerns are shared by other veterans organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “The scare tactics right now are very troublesome, principally because both sides are using the military, veterans and their families as political pawns,” said Joe Davis, a VFW spokesman. “If America wants to equate national service and sacrifice by the amount one pays for health-care insurance, then America should also prepare for the end of the all-volunteer force.”

Many disabled veterans depend on their veterans benefits checks to get by each month, said the DAV’s Augustine. “Losing even a little bit could be disastrous for them,” he said. “It has the potential to affect the people who can least afford it, and that is very nerve-racking.”

Asked to comment on the veterans concerns, Joshua P. Taylor, press secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that “the president believes we will resolve this situation and avoid any disruption in government operations or payments.”

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