Veterans who receive pension checks or disability payments will have to wait at least an extra day for their money this month.
The checks are a casualty of the budget dispute between President Clinton and Congress. Due shortly after the first of the year to about 20,000 veterans or their widows or children in the Spokane area, the payments may not arrive until after the first of the year.
“It’s not a huge impact if it’s only a few days,” said Esther Westlake, a spokeswoman for the local office of the Disabled American Veterans. “But for some veterans who live paycheck to paycheck, there could be some who go a weekend with very little food.”
The delay could prompt veterans to take out their anger and frustration on politicians of both parties, she said.
“Who’s to blame? They’re both to blame,” Westlake said.
Congress passed a bill earlier this month with money for the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development. But Clinton vetoed the bill because of disagreements over HUD spending.
The House passed a bill Wednesday night allowing the federal government to pay all pension and disability benefits that are scheduled to be mailed Dec. 29.
But the Senate didn’t vote on the measure while Democrats and Republicans sparred over other budget questions.
Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, who co-sponsored the temporary spending bill, labeled Clinton’s veto “election season politics.”
But Westlake said part of the problem stems from the way Congress decides how to spend money. Congress includes veterans programs - which have broad support - with other programs that can be more contentious.
Usually that means the popular veterans programs ensure that the controversial programs will win approval. But this year, it has meant veterans programs have been stalled.
“The VA budget should stand alone,” Westlake said.
Nethercutt, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said he agrees Congress should approve money for the department separately.
Congress may do that next year when it reorganizes the committee, he said.
That’s not going to help this year, however.
As the dispute drags into the three-day Christmas weekend, the chance for longer delays grows. To process the checks and get them in the mail, the Department of Veterans Affairs must call back workers who are on furlough.
But unless a temporary spending measure is approved, VA administrators have no authority to call workers back.