If lawmakers can’t come to an agreement to avoid a government shutdown Oct. 1, many activities of the Defense Department could be affected, including some aspects of military benefits such as medical care and child care.
The question of military pay is also up in the air. Troops could be required to report to work even if their pay is withheld. In 2013, just hours before a 16-day shutdown began, Congress passed temporary legislation protecting military pay. But some bonuses and other compensation were affected.
Permanent change of station moves for military personnel would be limited primarily to those moving to an “excepted activity” — designated as exempted from the shutdown.
More specifics will become available if a shutdown does happen, but according to guidance posted by DoD on Sept. 12, here’s how it could generally play out for some quality of life benefits:
♦ Medical: There are important exceptions to the shutdown for medical and dental care, but elective surgery and other elective procedures in DoD medical and dental facilities aren’t immune from the shutdown.
Inpatient care in DoD medical treatment facilities and acute and emergency outpatient care in DoD medical and dental facilities would continue. Private sector health care under Tricare would continue. Medical care for wounded warriors would continue, including surgery for recovery of function and appearance. Veterinary services that support excepted activities such as food supply and service inspections would continue.
But the current guidance doesn’t specifically mention other services in these military medical facilities, such as routine medical or veterinary appointments, as being specifically immune from the shutdown.
♦ Child care and morale, welfare and recreation activities: Child care may be a mixed bag, depending on the installation. As in the past, the DoD guidance would allow morale, welfare and recreation activities that receive any taxpayer funding to operate during a shutdown if they are deemed necessary to support essential operations, such as mess halls, physical training and “child care activities required for readiness.” That’s the extent of the description of child care.
But in the past, individual installations determined whether child development centers would continue to operate during a shutdown.
During the pandemic, child development centers largely remained open, as officials recognized the child care needs for personnel who were deemed essential.
Activities and organizations funded entirely by nonappropriated funds, such as many MWR activities and the military exchanges, generally won’t be affected. The exchanges are largely funded by sales revenue, and part of their profits go to help fund some MWR activities.
♦ Commissaries: Military grocery stores shouldn’t be affected unless the shutdown approaches two months, according to some estimates. The DoD guidance provides exceptions for overseas commissaries to continue to operate, and any commissaries “determined to be in remote U.S. locations where no other sources of food are reasonably available for military personnel.”
It also allows Defense Working Capital Fund activities — which includes the Defense Commissary Agency — to continue to operate until cash reserves are exhausted.
Steve Rossetti, president of the American Logistics Association, estimates there’s about $200 million in the commissary reserve funds, which are used for operations, such as paying employee salaries, utilities and transportation.
One estimate is that it costs an average of $4 million a day to operate all the commissaries, so theoretically there would be enough to finance operations of all 236 commissaries for around 50 days, Rossetti said.
Funding for food inventory in the commissaries is replenished as the food is sold and money is returned to the coffers.
During the pandemic, defense officials designated commissaries as mission essential.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has affirmed the role of commissaries in helping to ensure food security for military families. As part of his “Taking Care of Our People” initiative a year ago, he directed DoD to pump more money into commissaries in order to reduce prices at the register.
Department of Defense Education Activity schools: Educational activities are excepted from the shutdown, but sporting events and extracurricular activities are not, unless they are fully funded by nonappropriated funds. DoDEA operates 160 schools in 11 foreign countries, seven states, Guam and Puerto Rico. The system employs approximately 15,000 employees who serve more than 69,688 children of active duty military and DoD civilian families.
Counseling: It appears that many counseling services will shut down, but there are exceptions for emergency counseling and crisis intervention intake screening and referral services; counseling and other support for victims of sexual assault; religious, suicide, or substance abuse counseling and services.
Care for the fallen and their families: Operation of mortuary affairs activities will continue, and other services to properly care for the fallen and their families. There are also provisions to make sure that the $100,000 death gratuity payments are made to designated survivors.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.