Presenting a unified front, a nonpartisan coalition of 33 organizations representing veterans and members of the military spoke at the World War II Memorial on Tuesday morning to demand an end to the government shutdown.
“Our elected officials must understand that posturing and playing politics with veterans is unacceptable,” Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, said during the peaceful rally attended by several hundred supporters and journalists on a sunny morning.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has warned that unless the shutdown ends soon, the department will run out of money and be unable to issue disability and pension checks due to be sent Nov. 1.
“For many, those payments may be the primary or only source of income,” Augustine noted. Many disabled veterans depend on VA pensions to cover mortgages, rents, utility bills, car payments and even food, he said.
“We have been assured and reassured by the president and by Congress that the budget won’t be balanced on the backs of veterans, yet here we are today,” said Steve Gonzales, assistant director of the American Legion.
Citing the example set by veterans of World War II and other conflicts, Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, urged the political players in Washington to “put the country first, and end this shutdown.”
In contrast to some demonstrations over the two-week long shutdown, Tuesday’s rally had a peaceful, civil tone.
The rally was sponsored by the Military Coalition, an umbrella group representing organizations such as the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the National Military Family Association.
Several veterans attending the rally said they feel disheartened by the way veterans have been used for political purposes during the shutdown.
“I’m totally infuriated at the way they have used these memorials and cemeteries to make political points,” said William Szych, 60, who identified himself as a retired Air Force officer living in Alexandria.
“I’m one of the vets who’s at risk of losing everything I worked for and sacrificed for,” said William Garcia, 51, of Leesburg, who attended the rally in a wheelchair and said he had service-connected disabilities from his service during the U.S. war in Iraq.
Garcia fears that if the shutdown is not ended soon, he will not receive a disability payment that is supposed to be sent in November.