While political parties in Washington, D.C., continue to blame each other for the possibility of a government shutdown, Fort Hood military and civilian personnel and their families were waiting late Friday night for the decision to be made.
If the government does shut down, “All military personnel performing active duty will continue in a normal duty status regardless of their affiliation with excepted or non-excepted activities,” according to a Defense Department release. “Military personnel will not be paid until such time as Congress makes appropriated funds available to compensate them for this period of service.”
Fort Hood has about 35,000 troops and 5,500 civilian workers who could be affected.
Although the Herald asked the Department of the Army just how a potential shutdown would affect Fort Hood, Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Monica V. Womack said all inquiries were being directed to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
According to a Defense Department spokesman, she said, “DoD’s foremost need is to receive an enacted appropriation for fiscal year 2018 as soon as possible. We are hopeful that there is enough time for Congress to prevent a lapse in appropriations. However, at this time, prudent management requires planning for the possibility of a shutdown. Any questions about a shutdown should be directed to (Office of Management and Budget).”
For Keith Sledd, a retired Army colonel and executive director of the Killeen-based Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, a shutdown is “not a good thing, no matter when it happens.”
He remembers the 2013 government shutdown, which lasted 17 days.
While Sledd hopes Fort Hood soldiers have savings they can rely upon in the event of a shutdown, he is realistic.
“If necessary, the Army Emergency Relief Program can help with short-term loans, but that’s not an ideal situation.”
In the event of a shutdown, according to the Defense Department: “Civilian personnel who are necessary to carry out or support excepted activities will also continue in normal duty status and also will not be paid until Congress makes appropriated funds available.”
Other civilian employees not covered by this statement would be furloughed, meaning they would be placed in a non-work, non-pay status, according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
How a shutdown would impact more than 5,500 civilian employees on Fort Hood depends on whether they work in a position funded by monies appropriated from Congress, or non-appropriated funds.
Those working in under-appropriated funds would face furloughs during a shutdown.
Fort Hood’s 1,000-plus employees of the Military Exchange and commissary would also be impacted differently. The commissary would close during a government shutdown, while the Exchange would remain open.
The effect on the morale of soldiers and their families is unlikely to be seen unless a shutdown lasts for more than a month, however, said retired Lt. Gen. Paul “Butch” Funk, a former III Corps and Fort Hood commander who lives near Gatesville.
“I think all soldiers believe they’ll get paid eventually and don’t think it will be that bad,” Funk said. “There is no morale problem right now. If it runs for a month or more, there would be, but (soldiers at all levels of leadership) are probably thinking, ‘how would I get away with something like that? I have to make things work!’”
Funk said he believes both political parties should be working together for the benefit of the country and addressing those things which need to be addressed.
“I don’t see how they can hold up a budget for something that is totally unrelated to it,” he said. “But I think our troops will be out there fighting their butts off, regardless.”
And while continuing resolutions have kept the Army from moving forward with modernization efforts, at least they “allow the bills to be paid,” said retired Lt. Gen. Pete Taylor, a Harker Heights resident.
“I hope and pray they’ll be able to do something before midnight (Friday),” Taylor said. “I find no reason this justifies a shut down of the government. I have enough confidence the people aren’t going to allow this to happen for a lengthy period of time and will find a way to resolve this before it does any considerable damage.”
Taylor added he hopes that if there is a shut down, it will be fixed before the troops even have a chance to notice an effect in their bank accounts.
Veterans would not be faced with such uncertainty during a shutdown.
“Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has advanced appropriations, so Central Texas Veterans Health Care System will continue to operate should a government shutdown occur,” said Deborah Meyer, public affairs officer for the local VA. “This includes our medical centers in Temple and Waco as well as all of our outpatient clinics.”
Operations at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center would most likely be impacted by a government shutdown, Sledd said. Emergency and urgent services would continue, but “elective procedures and routine appointments could be affected.”
Pension checks for military retirees would still be issued, even if the government shuts down, as would those for individuals receiving payments from the Survivor’s Benefit Plan.
Veterans Affairs disability pay and G.I. Bill payments would continue, in spite of a shutdown.
To mitigate the effects of a shutdown, at least one bank is making provisions for its military customers.
First Command Financial Services, Inc. issued a press release announcing those military and federal employees who have direct deposit set up would have access to zero-interest payroll advances equal to their regular direct deposits, along with other services and deferred fees.
Whether other banks will join suit is unknown. Questions directed to Fort Hood National Bank received no response as of press time.