Veterans feel they are being used as ‘political ploys’ in shutdown

Younger veterans gather at WWII memorial to protest treatment

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Beneath his black Wounded Warrior Project cap, Steve Scalora’s eyes scanned the digital photo album on his phone.

The bright sun beating down on the 31-year-old as he stood in the World War II Memorial on Tuesday made it difficult to see the screen, but he found the image he was looking for.

It was a lanky young man with whom he had served in the Army. The man was wearing a T-shirt and shorts that reached just above the knees on his prosthetic legs. And it was one of the reasons he had driven overnight from Woodbury, Conn., to the District to attend a rally protesting the handling of veterans affairs during the federal government shutdown.

“I’ve always felt that military members, veterans, families left behind after their loved ones paid the ultimate price, these people should not be political issues,” said Mr. Scalora, who served from 2007 to 2010. “Right now, both parties are guilty of using active duty troops, disabled veterans and the ones who have passed away as political ploys. It’s disgusting.”

The sentiments were echoed by a coalition of military associations that also gathered at the war memorial on the Mall.

Veteran Al Bailey of Highland, Md., attends a rally for veterans and military members Tuesday on the Mall calling for an end to the federal government shutdown at the World War II Memorial. (andrew harnik/the washington times)

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Veteran Al Bailey of Highland, Md., attends a rally for veterans and ... more >

But the protest was different from other recent shutdown-inspired rallies, several of which devolved into shouting matches and aggressive dismantling of National Park Service-enforced barriers.

Herb Rosenbleeth, president of the Military Coalition, said Tuesday’s rally was not meant to incite angry protests but to call on Congress to end the shutdown.

“Our veterans served our country,” Mr. Rosenbleeth said. “We need our country to serve our veterans.”

Ray Kelley, national legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, agreed, adding that the barriers erected around the monument by the federal government needed to come down — and not as a political stunt.

“Putting [the budget] together little by little does not help veterans,” he said.

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

Wearing a black leather vest covered in military patches, his arms and hands covered in tattoos, Gary Benenati, 36, said the threat of losing services is not only frightening but also frustrating.

“Veterans benefits are backed up two years, and now they’re saying they’ll be backed up even more,” said the former Marine as he leaned on a black cane while standing at the memorial. “Who’s taking care of these guys for those two years?”

Support services aside, Craig Meinhardt, 35, a member of the Maryland Army National Guard, said the shutdown also has a negative effect on combat readiness.

“I can’t do my training with my fellow soldiers,” said Mr. Meinhardt, adding that his weekend training had been canceled as a result of the shutdown. “Without training, we can’t be ready to fight for this country.”

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