Pay protected but shutdown stings military multiple ways
Congress quickly passed the bill from Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a Marine Corps Reserve retiree, and President Barack Obama signed it into law. So military pay continues.
On Saturday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that, based on a Department of Justice legal interpretation of the new Pay Our Military Act, the furlough of most Department of Defense civilian employees ended Monday
That means 175 stateside commissaries shuttered at the start of the shutdown will reopen to patrons and most of the base services suspended or put at risk by the furlough will be restored.
Defense officials have lowered their estimate of Defense employees on furlough last week from 400,000 to 350,000. And of those 350,000, fewer than 10 percent will remain in furlough status until Congress passes a full funding bill.
Working with the services, Defense officials are still sorting out what employees will remain on furlough. They are in jobs that do not directly support military personnel or their missions. All other employees personnel are expected to return to work.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is expected soon to sign a bill that will retroactively restore to all federal employees who have been furloughed any salaries or wages withheld during that period.
Even with the easing of furloughs, Defense officials must make now deal with a second year of sequestration.
Joyce Wessel Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, now is focusing her concern on the shutdown's effect on access to base health care and family support services. Levels of staffing for these activities are being determined by individual commands, she said.
"We are hearing from our volunteers at local installations on what's open, what's closed. But the quality of information varies tremendously. And it's going to get worse because, in most cases, people responsible for updating the DoD and service websites are now furloughed," Raezer said
Schools and Child Development Centers on base are open. But childcare for school-age children before school and after might not be available if located away from development centers. Many young military families who rely on Women, Infant and Children (WIC) nutritional assistance could see that program running out of money if the shutdown drags on.
"So not only are we making families pay more at the grocery store, our young, vulnerable families with babies and little kids are going to lose the extra nutritional support," Raezer said.
Furloughs will affect access to care in base hospitals and clinics but the Defense Health Agency can't predict how yet. DHA does vow that the shutdown will not impact inpatient care, acute care or emergency care on base, nor will it affect access to private sector care under Tricare options.
Though activated Guard and Reserve personnel will be paid, reserve component drills are being canceled so drill pay will stop. Death gratuities to survivors of members killed on active duty have been delayed. Education centers on bases are closed and tuition assistance is unavailable.
Promotion boards are suspended. Training and travel are disrupted unless connected to the war in Afghanistan, readiness for future deployments or other "excepted activities" including emergency services, police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel.
Military families with questions about the shutdown's effects can visit or call Military One Source (www.militaryonesource.mil or 800-342-9647), which is one activity being kept fully staffed during the shutdown.
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