While the finger-pointing over the partial government shutdown continues in Washington, people relying on federal programs are feeling the pinch. It's estimated more than 800,000 federal workers are currently furloughed. America's veterans have been one of the most visible groups during the shutdown. Nearly 30% of the furloughed positions are veterans. Some veterans in the Coachella Valley say as more time passes, their worries are only getting bigger. "This could hurt people who defend this country, who defend us, who lay their lives on the line for us," said Tony Aguilar, who served 21 years in the United States Navy, including in the Vietnam War.
Aguilar says its hard to see the county he fought for, fighting itself. "It really breaks my heart to see we're doing this to other Americans," said Aguilar. "All Americans, and why? Because two parties can't get together."
Veterans continue to receive benefits and VA medical facilities and clinics like the one in Palm Desert remain open during the shutdown. But, if Congress can't find a resolution, veterans fear how they'll be affected. "That's a major concern for me," said Buzz Waltz, who fought in the Vietnam War. "The care and the quality of care, and the continued of our benefits for us veterans and veterans coming back home."
Waltz survived cancer after treatment from the VA. He fears a prolonged shutdown could keep others like him from getting the speedy treatment they need. There's enough funding to process disability claims through the end of the month, but any longer, and an already large backlog could get even worse. "I personally would like to see this end," said Waltz. "So, we don't have long lines, so we don't have a backlog of claims and some backlogs are even up to six months, maybe even more."
While Aguilar and Waltz wait on action from Capitol Hill, they continue to honor those who have passed, engraved in the walls at the American Legion in Palm Springs. They say they're proud to see veterans in Washington, pushing past barricades at the World War II memorial to do the same. "Those are our memorials and for them to say we can't go there?" said Aguilar. "Sorry, no, we're going to go there.
The National Park Service released a statement saying the memorial remains officially closed, but said they will not keep visiting veterans from entering.