Government Shutdown: Facing Furloughs and Disrupted Pay, 1 in 4 Federal Civilians Is a Veteran

by Nick Schwellenbach, 10/2/2013

While there has been substantial media coverage of how a prolonged shutdown would affect disability and pension payments to veterans, what has been lost in most of the coverage is that large numbers of veterans are being affected now. As more than 800,000 federal employees face furloughs, it is rarely mentioned that a quarter of the federal workforce is made up of veterans, many of them disabled.

Since President Obama took office, the number of veterans employed by the federal government has climbed from 512,240 in fiscal year 2009 to 567,314 in FY 2011 – an increase of 55,074 – according to the most recent Office of Personnel Management report on the issue. Their overall share of the federal executive branch workforce increased from 25.8 percent to 27.3 percent over that same period.

Disabled veterans represented more than half of this increase. Their ranks in the federal civilian workforce expanded from 128,170 to 159,082. About 1 in 20 federal workers is a disabled veteran.

The heaviest concentration of vets in the federal government are in the Defense Department (41.9 percent), the Transportation Department (28.8 percent), the Veterans Affairs Department (27 percent), the Department of Homeland Security (24.7 percent), and the Office of Personnel Management itself (22 percent).

But veterans also represent more than ten percent of the workforce in the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, and State as well as the General Services Administration, NASA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Social Security Administration, and the Small Business Administration.

If the 1 in 4 ratio holds for the more than 800,000 furloughed, that’s more than 200,000 veterans who are being affected directly by the shutdown. For civilians still working – this includes veterans as well – their pay may be delayed, throwing a monkey wrench in their families’ lives.

Update October 3: The 200,000 number is surely an upper limit since veterans tend to be concentrated in departments less impacted by furloughs. But tens of thousands are definitely among those furloughed, very easily more than 100,000. And the uncertainty regarding pay for even those who continue to work as 'excepted' employees is an issue for all federal employees, including the more than half million veterans in the workforce.

The Northwest Florida Daily News's Lauren Sage Reinlie described one veteran who is a victim of the shutdown:

After spending 25 years in the Air Force and several years as a Department of Defense contractor, Tom Mason now works as a civilian in construction and maintenance at Eglin Air Force Base. At 50 years old, he’s given more than half his life to the military.

After the government went into a partial shutdown Tuesday, Mason was sent home from work with no pay and no promise of when he will be able to return.

While the single dad said he should be all right for a few weeks, the furlough could prove difficult when his mortgage and car payments come due the middle of the month. The bills are well over $1,000, he said.

“I’ve got bills to pay and it could affect my credit in the long run,” he said Wednesday while on base to pick up some medication for his 18-year-old daughter, a senior at Choctawhatchee High School. “When it comes down to food versus paying the mortgage, I’ll be buying food.”

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