EDITORIAL: Bickering leaders treat our vets like 'political chew toys'

October 10, 2013 

If shutdown continues, disability checks won't go out next month.

While Republicans must shoulder the blame for the destructive federal shutdown, both sides are playing politics with those in the cross fire. Soldiers and veterans are arguably being exploited the worst.

The White House and members of Congress in both parties were falling over themselves Wednesday to express concern and make sure that the loved ones of troops killed in action receive death benefits. The House passed legislation on a 425-0 vote, President Barack Obama pledged to find an immediate legal fix and the Pentagon announced help from a nonprofit group.

The families of more than two dozen service members who have died since the shutdown began last week haven't received the usual $100,000 in immediate cash to cover funeral and other expenses. They include four soldiers killed Sunday in Afghanistan by a hidden bomb -- two Army Rangers, an Army criminal investigator and an Army nurse.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who said a legal interpretation had forced him to delay the payments, made sure to be at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Wednesday when the bodies of those four soldiers returned home. It's a solemn ceremony that is rarely shown in public, but in the shutdown gamesmanship it was a photo opportunity Wednesday.

Last week, both Democrats and Republicans rushed to the cameras at the National World War II Memorial to greet veterans -- some in wheelchairs -- who went around barricades at the officially closed site. You can't blame advocacy groups for being appalled.

"Veterans are hurting and are tired of being used as political chew toys," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The impact on veterans -- and the political pandering -- is only going to get more painful. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told a congressional committee Wednesday that if the shutdown continues, about 3.8 million veterans will not receive their disability benefits in November, and pension payments would stop for 315,000 veterans and for 202,000 surviving spouses and children.

Those who have fought for our country certainly deserve better than this shoddy treatment. So do all Americans at the mercy of bickering politicians.

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