The current political climate in Washington has given new purpose to National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger's position as leader of the nation's largest veterans organization.
Dellinger expressed his frustrations over the recent government shutdown to hundreds assembled for a press conference at the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis on Tuesday, saying that it is inexcusable that Congress' failure to pass a budget has negatively impacted veterans and their families. He stuck to a similar script in his address to Wednesday's morning session of the 2013 Fall Meetings, telling the National Executive Committeemen and various Legionnaires present that he will continue to speak about the adverse effects of the government shutdown at any chance he gets.
"Politics has replaced patriotism," Dellinger said. "Defending America is a constitutional responsibility that should be job one for any political office holder. And you cannot defend America without supporting the good people who have sworn an oath to do it. This is even more essential in a country with an all-volunteer force."
Particularly, Dellinger expressed frustration about the prospects of millions of veterans not receiving benefits or GI Bill compensation should a budget not get passed by Nov. 1. Additionally, the government shutdown makes us more vulnerable as a nation to terrorist threats and also has reversed progress that VA has made on the mounting backlog of benefits claims filed, he said.
"The government is repeatedly breaking President Lincoln's promise to ‘care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan,'" Dellinger said.
Dellinger referenced the Military Death Benefit bill that Congress recently passed and President Obama ultimately signed as an example of how the two governmental branches are capable of accomplishing something when they both decide that they want it done.
Still, he expressed concern that the situation could get worse if further compromises aren't reached.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this ride is going to get much rougher if they don't reach an agreement very soon," he said.
The shutdown and looming deadline of Nov. 1 only magnifies the Legion's role as an advocate for veterans and national security, Dellinger said.
"If this past month has not proven the importance of membership in The American Legion nothing will," Dellinger said. "Our elected officials in Washington have not done their jobs. And while we still do not know for certain how long this shutdown will last, it will take strong and LARGE organizations like The American Legion to constantly remind our lawmakers, the president and the American people about the disproportionate impact that these political games are having on veterans and our national security."