'They have to remember — these are American families'

Meet the veterans struggling with the shutdown

Elizabeth Howe
January 10, 2019 - 12:50 pm

Photo courtesy of Bernie Sanders

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It's more than paychecks — it's livelihoods, careers, and access to disability services. The government shutdown might seem like a vague, faraway concept to anyone not directly affected by it. But these veterans are affected, and they all feel like politicians are using their lives as a "political football."

"It's unacceptable for our leadership to be using our profession, our careers, and our livelihoods as a political football. It's not acceptable," said Air Force veteran Toby Hauck.

Hauck has been working as an air traffic controller in Chicago, Il. for years. He built a career and, along with it, savings that will help keep his family afloat for the time being. But he's not sure the same can be said for the rest of the workforce — roughly 20 percent of which are veterans. As a representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, he has a lot of people coming to him for answers he doesn't have. 

"This morning is kind of hectic," Hauck said. "We're being asked a lot of questions and we are asking a lot of questions trying to get some clarity for folks."

And clarity is exactly what you need when you're directing the nation's air traffic. 

"Our folks are coming to work and being very professional and separating aircraft every day and doing an outstanding job at keeping the national air space system moving forward," Hauck said. "Every day this is a stressful job. It's a fragile system, one that relies on all parts working together without problems - and this definitely is a pretty serious blow to the whole system."

Joseph Pelliccano served in the Army for five years serving in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After the Army, he got a job working for the Bureau of Federal Prisons at the federal penitentiary, Canaan in northeastern Pennsylvannia, where he's worked for the past 12 years. 

“Right now, I’m working at one of the most violent penitentiaries in the country without pay,” he tells Connecting Vets. “It’s very stressful.”

Where it stands now, it looks like he definately won't be seeing a paycheck on Friday, or even in the next two weeks. The stress, he says, stems from his need to pay for "basic necessities" like housing, groceries and other bills. 

Army veteran William Reese says the federal employees where he works as a transportation security officer in Pittsburgh are just as dedicated, despite media coverage of TSA employees calling out sick. 

"The call-offs are not going to be like they said they were," Reese said. "The call-offs are going to be when people just can't make it anymore. My people live in 5 states — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia — and they all are still coming to work." 

Reese said some of these federal employees are driving as far as two hours each way for part-time positions — that they're not currently getting paid for. 

"These people are dedicated. They're going to do what they have to do until they just can't do it anymore."

Reese is a Desert Storm veteran who served from 1989-1993. Now, he's turning to his two sons to help him get through the shutdown. 

"It's me and my two sons. We all had to sit down and have a family talk. They're going to do their part, we're going to see how long this lasts, and hopefully we can make it through it," Reese said.

"It's a saddening thing that they can hold over 800,000 people's checks in limbo," Reese added. "They're receiving money, and we're not going to receive ours."

Both Ed Canales, a disabled combat veteran, and his wife are both federal employees, so neither of the couple currently has an income. And, thinking the shutdown would end more quickly than it has, Canales dipped into his own savings to help other veterans.

"I'm the veteran liaison officer for the American Federation of Government Employees. I'm getting a high influx of calls from veterans who are at their end means because they can't support their families," Canales said. "Unfortunately, I thought this would end. So the money I did have, the veterans that called me, I basically gave them loans. Now that there's no end in sight, I had to tighten up the belt."

Canales is also facing concerns beyond the financial. As a disabled veteran, Canales has regular appointments at the VA — ones he can't attend while on work status during a shutdown.

"During the shutdown, there are only two statuses you can be — there are furlough and work status. So since I'm work status, I'm being denied annual leave. I'm not allowed to go to any VA appointments. Myself and other veterans aren't able to seek the treatment we require to perform."

This, Canales said, is his main concern.

"These disabled veterans with TBI or PTS. You're adding more stress telling them they can't support their families. They're strapped."

Canales's message for the country's leaders was similar to that of Reese and Hauck. 

"Please stop holding our checks hostage. They have to remember — they have to throw away the politics and remember — these are American families. These are families who want to live the American Dream, and work, and provide for their family, and with one swipe they took it all away from us. Now there's no end in sight. I want to let them know that if something happens the blood is on their hands."

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