The American Legion joined about 30 other advocacy groups for veterans and servicemembers on Tuesday for a press conference at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Calling themselves The Military Coalition, the organizations sent a simple but urgent message to Congress and the White House: stop the government shutdown and stop harming America's military families.
The Military Coalition, representing more than 5 million members who have served or are serving America in uniform, chose the same venue as American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger did for his Oct. 4 press conference. Dellinger voiced the same essential message and laid blame for the shutdown at the feet of both Congress and the White House.
Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the Legion's Economic Division, told the crowd gathered at the memorial that it was "impossible to believe" that so many of the country's veterans "will be forced to depend upon charity for their very existence before the country they had fought to defend gets around to caring for them, due to a government shutdown and political bickering."
Gonzalez said The American Legion cannot understand why spending sacrifices are forced upon veterans because Congress is unable to achieve a political solution. "We have been assured by the president and by members of Congress on numerous occasions that the budget won't be balanced on the backs of veterans," he said. "And yet, here we are."
With the unemployment rate for veterans exceeding 20 percent in some areas of the country, the shutdown is especially difficult for those who have served in the military. The lapse in federal funding has suspended the Department of Labor's employment and training programs for veterans, including the Transition Assistance Program, Jobs for Veterans state grants, the Veterans' Training Institute and the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program.
"In a true sense, we are not giving anything to the veteran," Gonzalez said. "We are making a token payment on a debt we owe them."
Dellinger held another press conference Tuesday at the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis, where he announced that the world is watching the clock tick to Nov. 1 — the day when millions of America's veterans will stop receiving about $6 billion in monthly benefits if funding is not restored to federal agencies. Read Dellinger's speech here .