Veterans rally at WWII Memorial against shutdown
WASHINGTON -- The third week of the federal government shutdown began Tuesday with a rally that drew dozens of veterans to the National World War II Memorial.
A coalition of military groups are urging Congress to end the shutdown before its impact hits veterans and their families. The Military Coalition, a group of 33 veterans and military organizations, says it wants to publicize what veterans will face if disability pay, GI Bill education stipends and other benefits are delayed.
The vets on hand Tuesday quickly moved aside the barricades that have been blocking the monument, except for during other protests, since the shutdown began.
Gary Noel was visiting D.C. from his home near Orlando, Fla., and decided to come by to lend his voice to the chorus lambasting the National Park Service decision to barricade the memorial.
"I just wanted to see it firsthand because I can't imagine what stupidity has gotten us to this point," said Noel, a former finance worker at Disney World whose father served in the Army during World War II. "Why does something this solemn and sacred get so political?"
Noel, like others at Tuesday's rally, blames both major political parties for the ongoing shutdown and the looming threat of default.
"This town - there's no one left that's got any common sense," he said. "Throw them all out. I would love to see what would happen if we started from scratch."
He blames President Obama's administration for barricading the memorial, calling it an unnecessary move that does nothing but punish people trying to honor the nation's military.
"This fencing is what made this the focal point," Noel said. "This is an open-air monument. What kind of thinking leads to that?"
For vets, the shutdown means more than limited access to the monuments they built with their service. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki warned last week that compensation checks to 5.1 million veterans won't be issued Nov. 1 if the shutdown doesn't end soon. Shinseki said 433,000 fully disabled veterans might not receive payments and 360,000 surviving spouses and children of wartime veterans may stop getting VA money.
VA tuition and stipend payments also hang in the balance.
Tuesday's protest comes on the heels of a spate of protests Sunday that included a raucous effort at the WWII Memorial. A crowd converged on the National Mall, pushing through barriers to protest the memorial's closing. Some of the barriers were carried to the White House and dropped at the fence there.
Caroline Bier said she didn't want to take part in Sunday's rally at the memorial because she viewed it as a political rally more inspired by Tea Party anger at the president rather than a simple show of support for veterans hurt by the government shutdown.
"I think they had an agenda and it was against President Obama," she said. "This is more of vets coming together wanting change for the common good."
Bier and her husband, Jesse, are both retired Marines. Caroline is now a civilian analyst for the Marine Corps and was briefly furloughed after the government shut down. But Jesse is 100% disabled from post traumatic stress disorder he experienced during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and more than half their income is made up of his disability payments.
They came to Tuesday's rally because they don't know if their next check will arrive come the first of the month.
"This is a huge slap in the face," said Jesse Bier, 42. "I don't want to go through this again."