Vets Budget Separate From Defense In Threat From Fiscal Cliff

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – On Veterans Day, some vets are urging Congress not to confuse programs important to veterans with military spending, during Washington’s budget wars. They point out that the Department of Defense budget would take a big hit if Congress goes over the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but the Veterans Affairs budget is separate and in some ways protected.

Jack Tincher retired from the military and the VA and now leads the West Virginia Veteran’s Coalition. He says if you think of the federal budget as being spent on “guns and butter,” vets actually depend a lot more on the butter part.

“Everybody wants to jump up and down when you talk about cutting the Department of Defense. They forget about the veterans that’s already served, the guys that need to be helped out here in the communities.”

Pay and benefits for active-duty personnel and veterans would not be hit by what is known as budget sequestration – the “fiscal cliff” that will be triggered if Congress does not reach a deal on taxes and spending by Dec. 31. Instead, weapons and Pentagon research would be slashed, along with domestic spending, says Richard Kogan, senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). However, he notes, everything is on the table as Congress tries to reach a deal, and vets, like everyone else, would suffer if negotiations fail and the economy tanks.

“If there’s no agreement, then vets’ programs are protected, whereas if there is an agreement, their programs might not be protected. On the other hand, if there’s no agreement, then the CBO says the economy suffers, at least in the short run.”

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has said the big tax increases and spending cuts in the so-called “fiscal cliff” could put the U.S. back in recession. Many observers expect Congress to reach some kind of agreement that involves a mix of revenue increases and budget cuts. The good news, Kogan says, is that so far there has been a conscious effort made to protect vets and soldiers.

“The president had the option, the one option he’s granted under the law, to exempt military personnel salaries from those cuts, and he chose that option.”

West Virginia has one of the highest percentages of veterans in the county. Tincher estimates the state has 1,000 homeless vets. He says what happens to Food Stamps and Social Security matters more to low-income vets than what happens with the defense budget for ships and planes.

More information about the context of the budget debate is available from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at www.offthechartsblog.org.

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