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Republicans Target 7 Million Veterans and Family Members with Imminent Debt Default

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy continues to fight an unprecedented and unnecessary game of “chicken” with the U.S. Government debt limit, destabilizing the domestic and international economy with his deliberate, inappropriate, and dangerous behavior.

McCarthy’s gambit relies on a series of proposed attacks on federal spending, including cruel and harmful cuts to the VA, which threatened to hurt as many as seven million disabled veterans and their families.

By intentionally underfunding government for years, Republicans are seeking to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, making it impossible for our social contract to work as advertised. Their proposed actions undermine the values of a nation that has agreed that we assist, rather than prey on, one another.

Here are some facts about the unconscionable and unfolding debt limit-related attack on VA:

According to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the U.S. will run out of money on or about June 1 (“Yellen says June 1 is ‘hard deadline’ for raising debt ceiling,” Reuters, May 21, 2023). The crisis can easily be avoided with a simple vote in the House and Senate in which the U.S. agrees to pay the bills for legislation that Congressional Republicans (as well as Democrats) have already passed.

According to the VA, the agency currently pays disability and education benefits to more than seven million veterans and their families (“VA Benefits and Healthcare Utilization,” April 28,2023). Here are the numbers:

· 5,540,000 disabled veterans receive monthly VA compensation for disabilities related to military service.

· 162,179 disabled veterans receive monthly VA pension due to total disability, and wartime service.

· 468,384 spouses of veterans receive monthly VA compensation for the death of a Veteran for disabilities related to military service.

· 834,460 veterans and family members receive VA education benefits.

These earned VA benefits won’t be paid to veterans and families on June 1 if the GOP doesn’t agree to pay for bills they voted to enact, ("How Veterans Benefits Could Be Delayed in June by a US Default,", May 15, 2023.)

The GOP’s attack on veterans and VA goes well beyond simply stopping checks for seven million veterans and families on June 1.

The recently enacted PACT Act finally provides disability benefits and medical care for about four million disabled, injured, ill, and poisoned Veterans. The law was signed by President Joe Biden last year (“Fact Sheet: President Biden Signs the PACT Act and Delivers on His Promise to America’s Veterans,” White House, August 10, 2022).

Republican Senators attempted to block the PACT Act a few weeks before it became law, going so far as to celebrate depriving ill veterans of care and benefits with a fist bump on the Senate floor (“GOP Senators’ Fist Bump After Blocking Vet Health Bill a ‘Punch in My Gut’ Relative of Late Vet Says,” MSNBC, July 29, 2023).

The current GOP threats to VA include, in part, eviscerating the PACT Act. In April 2023, Democrats tried to protect veterans and VA from the draconian budget cuts proposed by Speaker McCarthy and his Republican colleagues. All the Republicans on the House Rules Committee joined to kill an amendment from U.S. Representative Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA) that would have allowed a full floor vote on protecting Veterans and VA.

When confronted about the rules vote, Republicans simply denied and deflected, even after veterans organizations urged Congress to protect VA care and benefits (“Vote Vets Joins 20 Veterans Orgs in Urging Congress to Protect VA Budget,” VoteVets, April 27, 2023).

Republican brinksmanship also damages hardworking and loyal VA employees.

While the full effects of a Republican debt show-down remain unknown, one group of federal employees may be at risk: 28,000 VA employees who process disability and other benefit claims for veterans.

VA processes as many as 8,000 disability claims per day. With a GOP debt default, VA claims processors would most likely be furloughed. (The VA work force more broadly – a third of whom are veterans – could also see work and pay interruptions.)

This shutdown would leave veterans who have pending or appealed claims – or potentially, those who need care – twisting in the wind, waiting for VA benefits and care at the same time the GOP sends both the national and global economy into a tailspin.

The bottom line is this: the longer extreme politicians shut down the government, the greater harm to our VA employees, veterans, and families.

Our nation's disabled veterans rely on VA payments to cover the rent, utilities, food, car payments, gas, and other essential living expenses after suffering disabilities related to their military service. Other veterans use VA to attend college after their honorable service. And let’s also remember that Veterans don’t live in isolation. Veterans’ families and communities also suffer from this cruel calculus.

McCarthy’s shameful game of chicken has laid bare the fact that many Republicans are anti-veteran, focused on slashing, burning, and privatizing VA and dismantling government agencies where many veterans also work. Let's hope the grownups prevail and there is no preventable debt default.

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