Vets' Groups Band Together to Call for End to Shutdown

B.J. Lawrence, the senior vice commander-in-chief for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization, speaks with Col. Raul Lianez, commanding officer, Marine Corps Base Hawaii and other senior MCBH leaders, Mar. 14, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Jesus Sepulveda Torres)
B.J. Lawrence, the senior vice commander-in-chief for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization, speaks with Col. Raul Lianez, commanding officer, Marine Corps Base Hawaii and other senior MCBH leaders, Mar. 14, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Jesus Sepulveda Torres)

Major veterans service organizations called on Congress and the White House on Tuesday to end the partial government shutdown over funding for the border wall that has resulted in about 125,000 veterans going without pay.

The VSOs also announced measures to assist veterans, members of the Coast Guard, and their families with rent, mortgages, overdue bills, utilities and other financial needs during the shutdown, now in its 26th day, but acknowledged that they could not come close to meeting the demand.

B.J. Lawrence, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, noted that federal workers at several departments and smaller agencies affected by the shutdown missed their first paychecks last Friday, while about 42,000 Coasties were not paid on Tuesday.

"We do not want anyone to miss a second check," Lawrence said. "Enough is enough; it's got to end."

Lawrence stressed that he was not assigning blame for the shutdown that has resulted in veterans either working without pay or being furloughed.

"As a non-partisan VSO, we don't feel it's our position to take a side in the matter," he said.

Rege Riley, national commander of AMVETS, said, "We're asking the president and Congress to act together, get their act together" in an effort to find common ground and end the shutdown.

Randy Reese, executive director of the Disabled American Veterans Washington headquarters, said the problems now being experienced by veterans going without pay will only have a "chance to snowball" as the shutdown continues.

Lawrence, Riley and Reese were joined at a news conference by representatives of the American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association.

In the effort to provide assistance during the shutdown, Lawrence said the VFW had distributed about $45,000 in emergency grants to help Coast Guard members and their families.

Reed said the DAV is "receiving a lot of walk-in clientele" from veterans looking for help.

"We're looking at emergency situations -- food, clothing and shelter. Who would've thought we'd be in the state we are?" he said.

Jon Ostrowski, president of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, said younger Coasties "don't understand why this is happening to them. They've got bills to pay regardless of the shutdown."

The regular Coast Guard payroll that was missed Tuesday amounted to about $75 million, Ostrowski said, and the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance fund for financial help in emergencies now has about $32 million available.

The Coast Guard's motto is "Semper Paratus (Always Ready)," Ostrowski said, "but we're not always ready for a government shutdown."

Veterans comprise about 31 percent of the entire federal workforce, and about 125,000 have been affected by the partial government shutdown, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The government departments and agencies affected by the shutdown are: Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Agriculture, Interior, Treasury, Commerce, State, and Housing and Urban Development. Also affected are the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, and the Small Business Administration.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

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