Jerad Polden lives in Fall Creek with his wife and four young children. He served a tour of duty in Iraq for seven months before getting a head injury. In February 2012, he was medically retired and since then, veteran’s benefits have helped him and his family. But now his benefits are threatened due to the government shutdown.
FALL CREEK, Wis. (WEAU) – Nine days into the government shutdown and Washington is still trying to find a way out. But while congress continues to battle, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office states around 3.8 million men and women could lose their veterans benefits.
In the latest document, the VA said if the shutdown continues through late October, compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs could come to an end, and that’s a scary reality for families who rely on those benefits to live day-to-day, much like Jerad Polden and his family.
Polden lives in Fall Creek with his wife and four young children. He served a tour of duty in Iraq before getting a head injury. In February 2012, he was medically retired and since then, veteran’s benefits have helped him and his family.
“I do work for almost a fulltime job, but that doesn't cover all my bills,” said Polden who works two part-time jobs; one as a maintenance worker at the Beaver Creek Reserve and the other as a massage therapist. Because of his head injury, his job choices are limited.
If the shutdown prolongs into the end of October, Polden said it would make a direct impact on his family.
“I pay my rent where I live, all my bills out of that. If that's cut by the end of the month, if i don’t have my rent money, I can be evicted,” said Polden.
And with his wife Lisa homeschooling their children full time in Fall Creek, that steady income from the VA is essential. It’s a similar situation for thousands of veterans in the region.
Clifton Sorenson is the veteran’s service officer in Eau Claire County. He said his phone line has been busy, answering questions for concerned veterans that are afraid they’ll lose their benefits.
“All of those people affected here in the valley, La Crosse, Menomonie, everywhere throughout Wisconsin and the United States will be devastated to the economy, but devastating more so for veteran’s dependence and survivors, those widows and orphans who rely on those monthly checks. So what is going to happen is a scary situation. It’s a scary time for all of us,” said Sorenson.
As of Tuesday, Veterans Affairs Administration buildings closed down. Many of the hotlines and VA call centers have also ceased to function due to furlough. Sorenson said he feels left in the dark because his points of contact with the VA are no longer available.
“My one-on-one contact people at the VA have been furloughed so we at the local and state levels only have what information we have on file and what information we can research to help our veterans,” said Sorenson.
Sorenson also said the shutdown and its effects could be a turnoff for those thinking about joining the military. Although shutdowns don’t happen often, the loss of benefits could cause somebody to think twice about joining the military or having it as a career.
“We have to exempt the military and the retirees. Those on active duty and those that are vets, those people have to be exempt from politics, from partisanship, all of those things. We're beyond that. Veterans are not part of parties and politics -and we're being hurt,” said Sorenson.
Polden said it’s unfair at veterans, after getting deployed and spending time away from family while serving the country, would lose benefits.
“They're sending us in harm’s way, expecting us to slow down our lives which we all signed on to do and we'll gladly do it to defend this country. That’s what we signed up for and not supporting us when we're back, that like I said, is a disgrace to this country and they should be ashamed of themselves,” said Polden.
Polden said he hopes he and others in the community will be able to get congress’ attention.
“If you start sending them letter after letter after letter and try and get their attention, do anything you can. I mean, we are the voice. We’re the people. We’re the ones that have to fight and standup for what we want,” said Polden.