As signs of displeasure with the stalemate over the debt ceiling mount, the most chilling headline can be found on the press page of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Budget Cut Proposals Would Hurt Veterans.” Would hurt, not could hurt. The story goes on to highlight the myriad and seemingly mean spirited attacks on veteran services packed into a recent congressional bill.
In response to these cuts and others proposed as part of a debt ceiling deal, a series of protest rallies are scheduled to begin across Bucks County late Friday afternoon.
Why protest? For some people, it’s about patriotism and supporting the people who have defended the country – because the bill hurts veterans who have served under every Republican and Democratic administration.
Additionally, HR 2811 eviscerates every healthcare gain made for veterans in the last two years, sets stratospheric goals for poor people in need of necessities and eliminates relief for millions of middle class, working poor, and impoverished Americans who’d been promised moderate education debt reduction. For many U.S. Veterans, all those reversals overlap.
Pennsylvania has more than her share of veterans. According to the PA Department of Military and Government Affairs, “Pennsylvania ranks 4th in total veterans (719,233),” nearly 30,000 of whom live in Bucks County.
HR 2811 calls for the elimination of 81,000 jobs at VA medical centers which will result in the cancellation of an estimated 30 million outpatient visits. While ignoring the likelihood that reduced healthcare availability may lead to negative outcomes, it reduces the workforce burying our veterans by another 500 employees.
As for the Pact Act – burn pit legislation passed after so much wrangling and fanfare by the last congress – HR 2811 eliminates the increased monies directed to pay for that care.
HR 2811 would eliminate President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program and forbid him from issuing a new one, even though 330,000 veterans are currently paying or have defaulted on their student debt.
Bucks county veteran statistics on poverty show that while the median income of a veteran is on par with the commonwealth average, but below the Bucks County average, ($62,802 according to PA Department of Military and Government affairs). Additionally, many veterans rely on the proposed housing and food assistance that is slated to be cut in exchange for the debt ceiling increase.
Brandon Cwalina, press secretary for the PA Department of Human Services explains that it is difficult to get an exact number of vets in need.
“DHS does not require the disclosure of veteran status in order to apply for any public assistance programs,” said Cwalina. “More than 9,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients indicated that they are veterans as of May 2023, including 187 in Bucks County, but this number represents only those who have voluntarily disclosed this status.”
And while the Veterans Administration boasts stark reductions in Bucks County veterans experiencing homelessness, HR 2811 has the potential to upend that success by calling for a nationwide elimination of 60,000 VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) vouchers – nearly 60 percent of the 106,989 vouchers in existence. Bucks County provides only 40 beds to veterans and their families in need, however, the elimination of any of those vouchers would result in Buck County veterans losing their homes.
Marine veteran Brad Thomas, a certified financial planner in Doylestown, sees the proposed spending cuts as a symptom of inefficiencies in government spending. “I think there’s a lot of bad government spending.” Thomas feels that over the years the feds have gotten better at helping veterans, “especially veterans that haven’t landed on their feet. I do think they are making positive changes.” Regarding the sharp cuts to veteran’s services he added, “My perspective on politics right now is there are a lot of better places they could take it [money] from.”
Rob Gurtcheff, a member of the Andalusia VFW Post 9198 agrees. Gurtcheff is now a private fraud investigator. The army trained him as a counterintelligence officer, ferreting out the truth and preventing American losses. Gurtcheff wonders why the same scrutiny is not applied by his countrymen to their lawmakers. “A lot of people get their news from memes. They are in political bubbles. They believe what they’re told.”
Gurtcheff knows distilling a 165 page report down to a meme wouldn’t have worked when he was on the ground defending the nation, “I reported everything I was told. I vetted my sources. I had to witness it, too.”
Gurtcheff doesn’t believe Americans bother vetting their memes, consequently veterans are at risk and the average voter doesn’t know it. “My theory? The long-term goal [of the cuts] is to eliminate the Veterans Administration – to break it up like their doing in education.”
In the short term, Governor Shapiro’s office promises a quick response should Pennsylvania veterans (and others) face immediate need.
“The Shapiro Administration is monitoring and preparing for any potential impacts of a debt ceiling impasse,” said PA Department of Human Services’s Cwalina. “Federal programs administered by the Commonwealth, like Medicaid and SNAP, could be impacted by an impasse, and Pennsylvania is prepared to respond immediately to continue essential programs once we have guidance from the federal government.”
EVENT 1 TIME: Friday, May 19, 2023, from 4:30 PM – 5:00 PM
EVENT 1 LOCATION: One Summit Square, Langhorne, PA Google maps link – https://goo.gl/maps/6YDzSGM4jnM3aQPL9
EVENT 2 TIME: Friday, May 19, 2023, from 5:30 PM – 6:00 PM
EVENT 2 LOCATION: New St. parking lot (across from Dock St.), New Hope, PA Google maps link – https://goo.gl/maps/KV9Pa63U1NSTn2Sr5
EVENT 3 TIME: Friday, May 19, 2023, from 6:30 PM – 7:00 PM
EVENT 3 LOCATION: 55 E. Court St., Doylestown, PA Google maps link – https://goo.gl/maps/NNiCFr9CC3zG9udG9
EVENT 4 TIME: Friday, May 19, 2023, from 7:30 PM – 8:00 PM
EVENT 4 LOCATION: Bensalem Plaza Shopping Center parking lot on Street Road, Bensalem, PA Google maps link – https://goo.gl/maps/fejKG9Xs86DSPAaz7