What a Government Shutdown Means to Military Families, DoD Civilians

With the new fiscal year upon us, and Congress still bickering about Obamacare as a condition of passing a stop-gap measure, military members, their families, veterans, and DoD civilian employees are facing the stark reality of having to perform their duties with no idea when they will see a paycheck.

Our nation’s heroes shouldn’t be held at the mercy of gridlock and dysfunction in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Patty Murray
To be clear, military members and veterans will eventually be paid their contracted salaries and benefits, but the key word is eventually. Civilian defense department personnel may not even be that lucky.

Military members have been ordered to report to work as usual during the shutdown. Because of this, they don’t have the liberty of trying to secure other employment in order to pay for their expenses while Congress fights out the funding. This means that their mortgages, utility bills and other obligations will go unpaid. And while it’s a struggle for many to pay bills, military members are often penalized for not meeting their financial obligations.

Once a member becomes behind on payments, their command is notified, usually prompting a meeting with command brass and some course of action. Some military banks and credit unions may work with families during this time to avoid penalties, but it is up to each individual institution what course of action it will take, if any at all. This means that the relief societies of the services could be overrun with requests for help, and it’s impossible for them to help everyone in need.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, other benefits that military families depend on may be unavailable as well. Exactly what medical services will be available will vary by location. It’s advised that service members and those who receive treatment at these facilities call in advance of appointments to be sure that services are still available.

Commissaries overseas will remain open during the shutdown, but those stateside will close on October 2. They will be open on October 1 in order to sell as much perishable merchandise as possible.

Veterans are not immune either. While lawmakers had the foresight to fund VA healthcare a year in advance in 2011, that is not the case throughout the entire VA. In fact, as reported by the Washington Post, if the shutdown lasts more than a couple of weeks, veterans who receive compensation from the VA will not receive their money, which is a switch from their position just last week. This prompted some to criticize the VA for not giving veterans enough time to prepare for that possibility.

This is a big reason why it’s critical that the House join with the Senate to act quickly and keep the government open without any political games,” said Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate budget committee. “Our nation’s heroes, who are already waiting too long for the benefits they deserve, shouldn’t be held at the mercy of gridlock and dysfunction in Washington, D.C.”

The VA issued a field guide regarding the shutdown Friday, but it does not mention the possibility of compensation checks not being issued, and the website was unavailable on Monday.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel released the following statement on the looming shutdown on Monday:

“To all Department of Defense personnel:

As you know, the government’s annual funding could expire at midnight tonight. I have joined President Obama in urging Congress to prevent a lapse in appropriations, and like all of you I would be deeply disappointed if Congress fails to fulfill its most basic responsibilities. We are now in a moment of regrettable and avoidable uncertainty. It would be irresponsible on our part not to prepare for the possibility of a shutdown – especially given that we don’t know what Congress will do over the next 24 hours.

To this end, DoD has been moving forward with necessary and prudent preparations. DoD leaders, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management, have been reviewing and updating contingency plans. Whatever happens, we will be prepared.

If a shutdown occurs, it will affect different parts of our department in different ways. While military personnel around the world would continue to serve in a normal duty status, a large number of civilian employees and contractors would likely be temporarily furloughed. Your supervisor will provide more information, but I want you to know that furlough decisions are dictated solely by the law, which only permits us to direct civilians to work if they are required to continue supporting military operations or if they are required to protect DoD personnel and property. The furloughs are in no way a reflection of the importance of your work, the hard effort you put forth every day, or your dedicated service to our department and our nation.

This has been a trying period for DoD personnel across the globe – military, civilian, and contractors alike. Right now, I am in South Korea meeting with our Republic of Korea allies and commemorating the 60th anniversary of our mutual defense treaty. I have spent time with U.S. troops and DoD civilians stationed here who would be impacted by a government shutdown. This is an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction from our mission of defending the nation.

DoD personnel and families have been through a lot recently. Sequestration has meant that most of our civilian employees have already had to endure furloughs this year, causing significant stress and hardship, while service members and military families have had to deal with the needless strain of reduced readiness as well as temporary reductions in services essential to their wellbeing. I know the uncertainty of a possible shutdown only adds to the anxiety that I’m sure many of you and your families are feeling. But I also know that the Department of Defense is a strong and resilient institution. We are going into this challenge together and we will come out of it together.

I want to thank all of you – military and civilian – for your patience and your professionalism, as well as your continued service and dedication to both our department and our country.

Thank you, and God Bless you and your families.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said emphatically today that a shutdown, which will go into effect at midnight, would be “disruptive and stupid.”

In a speech at the Center for American Progress, Carter said:

“Let me just emphasize that the administration firmly believes that a shutdown can be avoided, should be avoided, and while we in the Department of Defense are fully prepared to deal with the shutdown if it occurs,” he said, “it will be extremely disruptive and unfortunate, especially for the men and women who are defending this country who now have to worry about receiving their paychecks on time.”

“This is no way to treat patriots working in our department and will cause serious harm to productivity and morale,” he added.