Mannix About Manatee: Shutdown responsible for unforgivable slight against fallen warriors, families

October 13, 2013 

The image of young soldiers solemnly carrying a flag-draped coffin down an Air Force transport ramp always gives pause to area veterans wherever they might be watching a TV.

Some at Kirby Stewart American Legion Post 24 on 75th Street West.

Some at Disabled American Veterans Chapter 18 on 63rd Avenue East.

Some at the Veterans of Foreign War Post 10141 on 51st Street West.

There may be a moment of silence, a bowed head, or a raised glass in a toast to another departed warrior.

Last week, however, circumstances surrounding that too familiar TV scene triggered entirely different reactions around our nation, including here.

"I'm outraged," said Don Vecoli, a Navy veteran.

"I'm disgusted," said Russ Otto, who was in the 101st Airborne.

"I'm pissed off," said Dick Alvarez, a Vietnam Army Ranger veteran.

Their anger was directed at Capitol Hill, the damnable government shutdown and its heartless and undignified treatment of the fallen and their grieving families.

After four soldiers and a Marine were killed in Afghanistan last weekend, it turned out their families had not gotten the $100,000 stipend -- cash to cover interment, flights and other expenses -- because of the stoppage.

They were among 29 active-duty service members who died since Oct. 1 when the shutdown began.

While Congress still collects pay -- Vern Buchanan refuses his -- and played the blame game with the Pentagon for this egregious disrespect, a military charity came to the families' rescue.

Then Thursday the President signed legislation restoring military death benefits.

Still, it doesn't sit right with veterans in our community.

Here are young men and women, who paid the ultimate price serving our country, but our government can't -- or won't -- cover their funerals because of political brinkmanship.

It's an emotional issue for Vecoli, a Persian Gulf War I veteran, who coordinates Honor Flights out of the DAV, taking old veterans to Washington's war memorials.

"We asked these kids to go over there and do a job and they don't make it -- and we can't even show them the respect for their families to be able to receive the bodies when they come back?" the 68-year-old said. "That is an abomination."

The sentiment resonated with George Staudt, a Korean War veteran.

He's part of Post 24's Honor Guard, which had carried out full military

honors at nine veterans funerals through Saturday at Sarasota National Cemetery.

"I'm saddened, very saddened the way this has been handled," said the 80-year-old. "I never would've expected our country to conduct itself like this, knowing the service these young veterans have performed, placing themselves in danger and they do this to them. It's obscene."

Russ Otto wasn't surprised.

That 80 percent of the members in the 113th Congress never served in the military told the VFW officer all he needed to know.

"Most of these guys would never make a decent Boy Scout, let alone a decent soldier," said the 70-year-old veteran of the famous Screaming Eagles. "They're so out of touch and have been there so long they have no idea what's going on in the real world.

"Can you imagine looking out your front door, seeing two men in uniform? You know what they're going to say: 'Your son has been killed.' And we can't even pay to send their families to greet their loved ones. It blows my mind.

"You wonder, what is happening to this country?"

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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