Veterans = The REAL party of “personal responsibility”

Responsibility-largeI stay away from discussions about politics and religion for a reason, but it’s high time I share what the government shutdown is doing to OUR family and who the true party of personal responsibility is. It’s not just our issue, but the issue of more than 5 million veterans and their families who will have NO income next month. It goes beyond the loss of income. The loss of the very paycheck we rely on each month to survive has far-reaching effects beyond not paying our bills.

How the #Shutdown is affecting our family

First of all, we’ve been threatened with not getting paid 5 times in the last 2 years if my memory serves correctly. This time it’s not just preliminary fodder for arguments in DC. This time the shit is real. Every time I’ve approached the situation in the past with a mindset that I won’t become another Chicken Little. It became a predictable scenario: Resolutions always came on the 11th hour (but not without a lingering sting with the slap in our face). This government shutdown has become the biggest suspense thriller we could ever watch on a big screen. Life is the biggest movie screen of all. And now I am turning into the Chicken Little I vowed not to be.

In my mind, whoever on Capitol Hill thinks it’s okay to put veterans first on the chopping block has nary a patriotic bone in their body. Veterans should be LAST for consideration in cutting of benefits.

(I need to add and clarify: No one is less deserving than veterans when it comes to their basic needs being met, but the very nature of their disabilities puts them in a higher-need category – and how they got their injuries and disabilities should never be overlooked or dismissed casually.)

My friend Debbie Stanley articulated how not meeting our most basic needs prevents us from making forward progress. Here is the original (and excellent) post, which I am quoting in part below:

“People have basic needs–you know that. What you might not realize is that those needs must be fulfilled in a certain order. Abraham Maslow articulated this with his Hierarchy of Needs, which in its most basic form goes like this:

  1. A person’s physiological needs for food, water, shelter, sleep, and freedom from extreme pain must be satisfied before s/he can give attention to:
  2. Interpersonal safety, financial security, and bringing pain down to a livable level, all of which must be in place before s/he can have the energy to address:
  3. The need for love and belonging, including the ability to do his or her part in a relationship. The ability to participate in relationships is essential for:
  4. The need for esteem from others and self-esteem, which include being able to become competent at something (work, school, a talent) AND feel good about it.

All of the above are the basic human needs. Not privileges, not luxuries: needs. These are the needs articulated as the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Only when these are satisfied can a person address the final, highest level need: Actualization, which in regular language means striving to be all you can be.

Right now Congress is dickering about money, as they so often do, and it’s come to the attention of my clients who receive Social Security that their payments might be affected by this debate. Now, on top of the issues they’re working on in counseling, they’re worried that their income might stop. Instead of spending our session time moving forward on problems in level 2, or 3, or even 4, they’ve plummeted back to Level 1: They’re afraid they’ll be homeless and hungry.”

So let’s get to the nitty gritty that you need to know about our personal circumstances:

  • My husband is 100% disabled because he was shot in the head in Iraq in 2004. He is unable to work, period.
  • Not being able to work cuts to the core of my husband’s self esteem.
  • We have a family size of 7 living off my husband’s disability income.
  • Taking care of our family is my husband’s biggest concern.
  • I cannot work outside the home as I am a full-time caregiver to my husband.
  • Not having the option to work cuts to the core of my own self esteem.
  • Despite not having a ‘job’, I calculate more than 360 hours a week with my caregiving duties (combined) in a week that has only 168 hours in it. This makes me an epic multi-tasker on the brink of losing my sanity.
  • Our oldest son and I just started college last month. He also served in the Army. Our educational benefits are also on the chopping block.
  • Every dime that comes into our household is the result of government benefits that were EARNED through service and sacrifice.
  • Those benefits were promised (but they are the first things to end up on the chopping block!).

If that isn’t convincing enough, there’s more:

  • After my husband was injured, we went into financial destitution when I gave up my job to take care of him. Despite repaying everyone instead of filing a bankruptcy, our credit was catastrophically ruined. It took five years to qualify to buy our first home. We have had a PERFECT payment history for the last 7 years, but our credit is still ruined.
  • Taking the above into consideration, one late payment of ANY kind will linger for another 7 years on our credit report.
  • The Army billed us more than $7K for our final “free” move after his retirement. After disputing it, they decided to collect the balance out of his Social Security payment each month anyway. Despite repaying it EVERY month without fail, they reported the debt as a charge-off on his credit. They still get their payments even though they’ve deemed us as deadbeats with the credit bureaus. What do you suppose will happen if the Army doesn’t get their payment out of the non-existent Social Security check next month?
  • The government collection mentioned above is on the heels of the Department of Education reporting his forgiven student loans through the disability discharge process as a defaulted loan in the end. (in other words, there is no such thing as a truly forgiven debt and absolutely NOTHING is free)
  • We are not one of the fortunate who were gifted with a mortgage-free home, a free car or anything else. What little assistance we’ve received over the years came in the form of recreational therapy or minor improvements to our home (a new well after having no water for two years, for example). As grateful as we are for those types of assistance, we are in a position to worry about housing and transportation, nor do we have assets to liquidate to make ends meet.
  • What do you suppose will happen to the Tricare insurance coverage we pay for out of pocket for the children and I if it doesn’t get paid? We have special needs children, one sporting the added bonus of a broken leg. We average multiple appointments per WEEK in this household and have to fill gobs of prescriptions for our medications. With some medications, the side effect of not taking them can have deadly consequences. That’s s comforting thought, isn’t it?
  • This brings up the next question: How will we afford to get to/from all the appointments that my husband and family need? The nearest medical care for us requires 90 minutes of driving each way. (we live in a remote area). There won’t be any gas money to access any care, even if the care was provided for free. That’s ONE way to cut government costs now, isn’t it?
  • Unlike furloughed government workers who have an IOU coming, we cannot just go down to the corner McD’s to get a temporary job and fill in the gaps. By the very nature of being disabled, getting a job is not an option. At least able-bodied government employees have the option to go elsewhere to make ends meet and come out with double the income in the end. Or, file for the fallback we don’t get: Unemployment.

The ripple effect of not having money to live on also comes in these forms:

  • We are entering what we call the “Anniversary” period. This means my husband’s PTSD flares up in the months leading up to the date he was injured. This affects his TBI, which means his functionality each day decreases. Adding stress of ANY kind (even something as simple as leaving the house) means he cannot function on the most basic levels. The government shutdown has basically shut my husband down.
  • Our credit is in jeopardy once again, through no fault of our own. Just one month of not receiving pay equates to 7 years of higher interest rates, no option to refinance at a lower interest rate, no option to apply for reliable transportation in the future.
  • We need significant modifications to our home, but due to loopholes in the system, we are on our own to make these things happen. What time we’ve spent building up equity in our home is something we can’t touch with a home equity loan. We won’t qualify to borrow off of what we’ve already paid.
  • My dream of going back to college is now on the chopping block. My son’s need to better himself for the good of his own family is also on the chopping block.

And here’s one more comforting thought to part with: Even if by some miracle the debt ceiling is raised and veterans get the funding they need to receive their pay, there probably won’t be VA employees available to process those payments because they are on furlough.

How’s that fixing anything?

The funding for veterans’ issues is more than just VA funding — HUD does the homeless veterans’ vouchers, HHS handles Social Security and Medicare, DOJ works with the Veterans’ Justice Outreach program—so funding the entire government is the only way to make sure that EVERY veteran is served and protected.

What I can do about it and pray it will all work out:

  • My contingency plan is to call all our creditors to make arrangements to defray any damage to our credit report. This takes time out of a very busy day to add more to my very full plate.
  • I will make what food we have left for the month last another month. That equates to a budget of $200 per month to feed 7 people. I’ll get very creative with our menu plan and go without (again).
  • I’ve given up on the idea of getting any birthday present this month. Our son may have to do the same. There’s no extra in the budget for even a card.
  • I will go further into debt to take out students loans, tag a house or car payment on the end of the loan, or use what little credit we have to buy essentials like food (adding more rice and beans) or pay utilities.
  • Vote off the assholes that strut around in Brook’s Brothers suits and let them know ahead of time why they won’t get my vote again.

With all that said, I say this:

Veterans and their families are the original party of responsibility. We stepped up to the plate and sacrificed for the good of our country. We make do with what little we are given. Our homes are deteriorating because we can’t afford the upkeep or the modifications we need to have a decent quality of life. Our marriages are failing because of the added stress. We are losing veterans to suicide at astronomical numbers. Veterans and their families are going homeless at an alarming rate.

We accept responsibility to live off an income that is lower than what we used to make. Despite this, we are now accepting responsibility for balancing our budgets with significant deficits.

If we can do it, why can’t congress do it too?

Congress, here’s my message to you… Stop being a Democrat. Stop being a Republican. Start being an American. Quit farting and blaming it on the dog. Take responsibility.

Do your job because we already did ours. 

About The Author

Torrey Shannon

My name is Torrey Shannon and I am a writer, author, blogger, movie consultant, speaker, veteran's advocate and Blue Star Mom. I am also a full-time caregiver and spouse of a wounded warrior. My husband survived a gunshot wound to the head in a gunfight in Iraq in 2004 after serving in the Army for more than 23 years. We spent three years of his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He has severe PTSD and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Dealing with the invisible wounds of war first-hand allows me to bring a human element to the problems our military communities face. Blogging gives me the chance to do what I love the most: write about life after combat and help create awareness and solutions for military members and their families. When I am not writing here, I freelance for a variety of publications and media outlets and am currently writing a book.