Veterans speak out after government shutdown

By Ashley Mitchem - Reporter, anchor
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - There are 3.9 million Florida veterans and survivors who rely on Veterans Affairs benefits earned as a result of service.

The Disabled American Veterans Department of Florida met Tuesday morning to talk about how the shutdown kept the nation's heroes from filing claims.

Veterans are urging lawmakers to make changes so claims services never shut down regardless of the government's status.

Although veterans still received health care during the shutdown, veterans are fired up because the shutdown kept injured veterans from filing claims to collect VA benefits.

Veterans gathered at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Wall to urge other vets to contact their U.S. representatives, senators and the president about signing legislation called Putting Veterans Funding First Act to require Congress to pass a full year's appropriations bill to all VA programs.

Veteran Tom Gora, the commander at the Fifth District Florida post, said even before the shutdown, there was an extensive backlog of claims, about 200,000 to 300,000 claims to process. The shutdown just added to the backlog.

"That was a part of our contract with the United States government when we joined the service," Gora said. "If anything happens to us, you'll help care for us the rest of our lives. And to deny us that opportunity by this government shutdown is, in my opinion, shameful."

Gora said once the claim is received, it can take up to two years to process, depending on the situation.

He and others want the government to be more considerate of the servicemen and women of this country.

"We're proud people. We don't like to complain a lot," Gora said. "But by golly, when the government does things like shut down the open air memorial to WWII in Washington D.C., what a disgrace that was."

Veterans say benefits aren't too much to ask for after putting their life on the line for this country.

"They are joining because it's in their heart to serve their country, which we've done, and in light of that we deserve what we've worked for and what we've earned," said Karen Nigara, chairman of Foreign Affairs.

The shutdown resolved last week, but a possible repeat could happen Jan. 15 if lawmakers do not approve a new budget.

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