Unemployment Extension 2014: VA Scandal, Benefits Cutoff Are Linked, Pelosi Says

Failure to pass an unemployment extension for 2014 has undermined Congress’ efforts to fix the ongoing problems with how the government cares for military veterans, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday, linking an unemployment extension for the first time to the ongoing scandal in the Veterans Affairs health care system.

Saying that the large number of unemployed veterans makes passing the unemployment extension — a version of which was passed by the Senate of April 7 — essential to supporting vets who have made immeasurable sacrifices to serve their country, Pelosi described meeting numerous unemployed veterans at a recent speaking engagement.

Pelosi said that she recently spoke at veteran’s event honoring Elizabeth Dole for her work with veteran’s health care. At the event, she said numerous veterans told her that they relied on unemployment benefits to get by, but their benefits were cut off after congress refused to pass an extension back in December.

“There are over 3 million people who have been cut off from benefits: hundreds of thousands of those people are veterans, and or their caregivers,” Pelosi said. “It’s just astounding that in our country we would not honor the commitment that we have that when people lose their jobs through no fault of their own, including a downturn in the economy, that we would not be there for unemployment insurance.”

The House and Senate have each passed bills to allow greater health care options for veterans, but the bills conflict on some points and the two legislative bodies are now trying to hammer out an agreement.

But even though the Senate passed its 2014 unemployment extension more than two months ago, there has been no discussion with House legislators about the bill, and Republican Speaker John Boehner has refused to let the House even consider an unemployment extension bill.

The unemployment crisis has been especially acute for veterans of the country’s recent wars.

The unemployment rate in 2013 for veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq War era — that is, those who served since September of 2001 — was 9.0 percent.

The overall employment rate in the United States started 2013 at 7.9 percent and was down to 6.7 percent by the end of the year. The average for the entire year was 7.4 percent.

As of May, 2014, the overall United States unemployment rate stood at 6.3 percent.

Though that figure represents an encouraging decline from the height of the recession when unemployment hit 10 percent in 2009, a 6.3 unemployment rate still represents a crisis, historically.

Prior to the 2008 recession, the last time the annual unemployment rate exceeded 6.3 percent was 1993, the last year of the recession that plagued the latter half of the George H.W. Bush presidency.

In the 61 years from 1947 to 2008, the annual United States unemployment rate has exceeded 6.3 percent just 15 times. Six of those years occurred during the Ronald Reagan presidency, with two each coming during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

The continued high unemployment rate, which remains even worse for recent veterans, is generally cited by advocates as a main reason to pass an unemployment extension in 2014.