Shutdown a ‘special kind of ignorance’

Kelley F. Macek | photojournalist

To put it bluntly, the government shutdown is scary.
For almost half of my life, I worked every day knowing that I would never be without food, clothing, shelter or safety. My health care was provided and my paycheck was secure.
I always thought it would take a special kind of ignorance to suspend the pay of U.S. military service members. After all, weren’t we the ones who responded in every crisis that affected our nation?
Then, I was no longer part of that active duty “us.” I retired and chose to use my Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits.
Armed with over two decades of experience and a burning desire to chase a dream, I left government service to become a full-time student.
I had a modest monthly retirement check and had managed to pay off most of my debts.
I began to receive compensation benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for injuries I sustained during my service. I found a small house in Pittsburg and enrolled in classes.
Since that first semester, my mission has become going to school and pouring 100 percent of effort into my education. I feel it would be dishonorable to skip class, or to settle for anything less than my very best.
School has become my duty. I am a member of American Legion Post No. 64 in Pittsburg and serve as an officer. I continue to have a desire to serve my fellow service members.
Now we veterans are facing the loss of VA compensation and GI Bill benefits, beginning in November.
I have managed to live small, not counting on these two sources of income, as I rely primarily on my military retirement to pay for my mortgage, utilities and food.
Thankfully, I have some savings in case of emergencies, but I have doubts that I would be able to continue my schooling full-time without working a full-time job and taking out loans.
The savings will not last and the cost of living is never static. As satellite offices of the VA begin to shut down, I will also be unable to seek VA medical care.
I will have to rely on a system much like everyone else, with cap amounts, co-pays, and refusals for anything deemed unnecessary. Military retired health benefits are not as wonderful as some may think.
I will survive. That’s what soldiers do. Yes, I am angry. Yes, I think that every single legislator should be reintroduced to “We the People.”
But the people that we should worry about are those veterans who did not retire, served our country honorably, and now face the loss of most, if not all of their meager income.
For some, their disability prevents them from working. They rely on those benefits for their basic needs.
Many suffer in body as well as mind, and thanks to recent initiatives by the VA, they had only just begun to receive long awaited compensation for those traumas.
There was hope, where before there was only resignation. Now, because of the political dogma of a faction within our government, this will be taken away.
Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves what will happen to them?

Kelley F. Macek is a photojournalist for The Collegio and a senior in communication. She is a combat veteran and a U.S. Army retired soldier.

Right wing plays ‘reckless’ politics

Marcia Weeks | guest writer

We saw the images. The Lincoln Memorial, Yellowstone, and all other national parks and monuments had been roped off like crime scenes.
We listened to the reports of the halting of food inspections. We shook our heads at the stories of fellow citizens being denied lifesaving treatment with the closing of our National Cancer Institute.
We empathized with the workers whose paychecks had stopped and with the innocent small businesses suffering enormous financial loss.
And, we were repulsed at the display of reckless, political gamesmanship being played out by some of our own members of Congress.
The news of the roots of the shutdown was disturbing. Investigative reporting revealed that for months, wealthy donors and right-wing members of Congress had been meeting at secret locations planning their attack.
Moderates who disagreed found themselves subjected to character attacks; they face primary challenges from well-funded, more accommodating candidates.
The right wing, increasingly radicalized by its own rhetoric and the removal of less-inclined colleagues, came to a decision that shutting down the government over the Affordable Care Act, passed three years earlier, would be a good idea.
Their previous success at securing massive tax breaks for the wealthy by holding the budget and middle-class tax relief hostage further emboldened the radicals.
“Class warfare” had become their rallying cry of the time, even as Warren Buffet described how his tax rate was lower than that of his secretary.
As public wrath of the shutdown grew, congressional members who had planned, supported and cheered it, became aware of their political blunder.
They needed to direct the blame elsewhere.
House Speaker John Boehner’s absolute refusal to call a vote to fund the government was the perfect cloak. It allowed individual House members to publicly decry the effects of the shutdown while continuing their behind-the-scenes support.
Daily piecemeal House bills to fund individual programs allowed them the opportunity to accuse the other side of failing to negotiate.
“Pro-life” candidates could hide their actions of shuttering prenatal nutrition programs for the poor and their treatment of cancer patients through these bills.
The extremist members could portray themselves as the protectors of the very programs they had been trying to gut for many years.
If a government service was fortunate enough to receive a massive outcry over its stoppage, extremist members would quickly sponsor a bill to restore its funding. Under this plan, one citizen would be allowed life-saving treatment while another would be denied.
Soldiers would be paid, but federal prison workers would not. The national parks would reopen, but the Centers for Disease Control would remain tied and bound as a useful hostage.
It is time now for the U.S. representatives, including our four Kansas members, to get their House in order and to represent all of us, not just their wealthy donors.
It is time for all of us to remain well-informed voters in each and every election.

Marcia Weeks is a resident of Pittsburg and a recently retired psychiatric and public health nurse. She works as a voter-registration and education volunteer.

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