Commander: Threat to veterans 'cruel'

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American Legion National Commander Dan Dellinger addressed Legionnaires, reporters and spectators in front of the barricaded National World War II Memorial this morning to speak on behalf of veterans and families whose federal benefits are being threatened by the continuing suspension of government services.

During the news conference, Dellinger made a strong appeal to lawmakers and the administration to end the partial government shutdown as quickly as possible.

"This week, because of the government shutdown, veterans of (World War II) were denied access to (this) monument honoring their sacrifices," Dellinger said. "That didn’t stop them. They simply went through the barricades, some in wheelchairs, passing federal authorities, to pay their respects. These proud veterans were not going to let themselves become pawns in a stalemate among politicians. No veteran should ever be so exploited.

"Congress’ failure to achieve a funding solution has led to a warning that VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) disability and education benefits will be suspended if the standoff continues through the end of this month." The threat to veterans’ benefits is "not only cruel but absurd," he added.

Dellinger also talked of the government shutdown’s deleterious effects on VA efforts to make significant progress on the claims processing backlog. "The government shutdown has already brought an end to mandatory overtime for VA claims processors," he said. "These processors were finally making headway against a problem that has persisted for over a decade. The inability of Congress to achieve a solution stands to unravel all that hard-earned progress.

"The American Legion cannot understand why veterans are first on the list of spending sacrifices as Congress fails to achieve a solution. We have been assured by the president and by Congress on numerous occasions that the budget won’t be balanced on the backs of veterans. And yet, here we are.

"As commander of the nation’s largest veterans organization, I implore our elected officials to work together to reach an agreement. Veterans should not have to suffer over Congress’ inability to do its job. Ironically, when our nation’s veterans were told to take Hamburger Hill, Pork Chop Hill and numerous other hills in God-forbidden places around the globe, they never thought they’d have to come home and fight on Capitol Hill for the gratitude of a grateful nation."

Dellinger concluded his speech by answering questions from reporters covering the news conference. One reporter asked what method The American Legion favors for politicians to end the government shutdown. "We don’t care how it’s done, we just want our veterans taken care of," Dellinger replied.

Another reporter asked Dellinger who he blames for the political impasse that has resulted in the shutdown. Dellinger explained the organization’s non-partisan stance, and then declared, "We blame the president, the House and the Senate." Spectators applauded.

Shortly after the press event ended, a wheelchair-bound World War II veteran being accompanied by his daughter and grandson approached the wired-shut barricades surrounding the memorial built in his honor. A news camera operator produced a pair of pliers, snipped the offending wire and, along with a Legionnaire, parted the barrier. The anonymous veteran chuckled, thanked his "liberators," and happily entered the memorial grounds.