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Military groups protest handling of veterans affairs during shutdown

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A coalition of military associations on Tuesday lambasted Congress for its handling of veterans affairs in the wake of the government shutdown and demanded a permanent solution to balancing the federal budget.

Standing along the eastern plaza of the National World War II Memorial, dozens of veterans and military advocates pleaded their case that using veterans as political leverage harms the country.

"We were assured the budget would not be balanced on the backs of veterans, and yet here we are today," said Steven Gonzalez, assistant director of the American Legion's economic division.

Tuesday's protest was different from other recent shutdown-inspired rallies at the war memorial, several of which devolved into confrontational shouting matches and aggressive dismantling of National Park Service-enforced barriers.

The World War II Memorial has become a rallying point for people and groups unhappy with the effects of the shutdown, including the shuttering of national parks and memorials on the Mall.

"We have to end this shutdown and Congress has to do its job," said Ray Kelley, national legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Piecemeal will not work. Putting [the budget] together little by little does not help veterans. It's time to take these barriers down, not for a little while and not for a political stunt."

Though President Obama signed the Pay Our Military Act on Sept. 30, a day before the shutdown began, veterans services and members of the military on Nov. 1 are facing the threat of not getting tuition or disability benefits, among the variety of financial support available to service members.

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