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Veterans Who Work For The Federal Government Are Among Those Hit Hard By Shutdown

Protesters gather in front of the USDA Rural Development building on Goodfelow Blvd to protest the government shutdown on  January 8, 2019.ed
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio
Protesters gathered in front of the USDA Rural Development building on Goodfelow Boulevard on Jan. 9 to protest the government shutdown.

Military veterans who work for the federal government are among the federal employees facing the loss of their first January paychecks due to the partial government shutdown which started Dec. 21.

A report from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management estimates that about one-third of federal employees are veterans. Although the exact number of local veterans who are government workers is unclear, a number of St. Louis-area veterans work for agencies like the National Park Service and the Transportation Security Administration.

“The number-one thing that (veterans) talk about is the heightened level of stress that the possibility of not getting paid is giving to them,” said William Attig, executive director of the Union Veterans Council of the AFL-CIO.“That is going to lead to long-term problems.”

More than 800,000 federal workers have either been furloughed or are working without pay. The shutdown is currently the second-longest in U.S. history. President Trump says the shutdown will continue until Congress agrees to fund a border wall.

Attig said those problems include financial instability — an issue that could have significant consequences for both long-time veterans as well as those just out of the military.

“As these veterans start going into their savings that make up their financial stability, they’re going to slowly become less and less stable when it comes to finances, which will lead to instability in other parts of their lives,” Attig said.

Stress over money matters is one of the leading causes of veteran suicide, Attig said. The 2018 VA National Suicide Data Report shows that between 2008 and 2016, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide each year. The 2016 Missouri veteran suicide rate was higher than the national suicide rate and the national veteran suicide rate with 154 veteran suicides reported in the state.

Attig said that financial stress is worsened by debt, with unpaid veterans turning to credit and loans until the government shutdown ends. He said that debt can be especially detrimental if a federal employee has a job that requires high-level clearance.

“TSA, border patrol, prison guard: they require a high-level clearance,” Attig said. “One of the easiest ways to lose your clearance is by having any form of debt.”

VA Services

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie released a statement saying that services related to the VA will not be affected by the government shutdown due to the agency’s funding through fiscal year 2019, which ends in September. But some VA staff worry that if the shutdown continues past the fiscal year, those services won’t receive funding.

“We can’t pay their disability claims. We wouldn’t be able to pay education benefits, or housing benefits for our veterans. So, yes, we have some concern because it’s not over,” said Keena Smith. Smith is a veteran who works as a veterans claim representative at the Veterans Benefits Administration in St. Louis and a political coordinator for the American Federation of Government Employees.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.