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Hoyer on impact of military layoffs, cuts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Days after the federal government shutdown began, many Department of Defense employees were exempted from required furloughs and are returning to work.

But no one addresses the long-term issues and the significant impact" of military layoffs and funding losses," said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard.

Those layoffs have particularly harsh impacts on National Guard units, and their families, stationed around the country in 54 states and territories, Hoyer said at a Tuesday news conference at the Guard's state headquarters at Yeager Airport in Charleston.

Things are getting a little better. "Federal technicians are back to work for us today, except for five people," Hoyer said. "And today, full-time National Guard Operational Support troops are coming back. They were out of work for seven days."

Hoyer said he is working with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state legislators to get the "flexibility to move money from the state budget around ... to cover utility costs until we get reimbursed" by the federal government.

But the West Virginia National Guard will face problems, some major, if the government shutdown continues, Hoyer stressed.

Many Guard members, as well as contractors and businesses working with the Guard, have already lost some payments and funding.

Serious problems could include the delay in the delivery of new helicopters and ongoing maintenance for existing airplanes and helicopters.

"We have not flown some for eight days," Hoyer said. "In the Army, if a helicopter sits for a time, it has to be tested before it can be flown. If we have a disaster tomorrow in this state, we will be down helicopters that we can use."

Hoyer said it would be difficult to get mechanics to inspect planes and helicopters because of the shutdown.

"We also don't have the money to pay contractors for medical readiness" in potential disasters, Hoyer said. "And we can't provide needed flu shots."

The federal shutdown is also beginning to affect private businesses, related to National Guard projects.

"We do not have the money to pay contractors and vendors who are finishing construction projects," Hoyer said.

Minor problems may soon include being unable to provide new or replacement personal ID cards to soldiers and veterans in West Virginia.

"We are also one of only two states that run motorcycle safety courses, which all Guard members must take if they use motorcycles. We have had to cancel that," Hoyer said.

He praised Ken Fisher, CEO of the Fisher House Foundation, which helps wounded veterans around the country. "He agreed to help with death benefits for five families."

Five American soldiers have died in overseas missions since the federal government shut down on Oct. 7.

Earlier on Tuesday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced Fisher had agreed to provide advance financial grants to families until the federal government makes reimbursements in the future.

Hoyer praised Manchin and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., for their leading roles in collecting signatures from 50 Senators and 88 House members on letters sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking that full-time National Guard employees receive "excepted status" during the continuing government shutdown.

"All members of our congressional delegation signed the letters," Hoyer said.

But he wants those members of Congress, and their colleagues, to sort out their differences soon.

"These folks have to find some kind of a way to deal with their political and ideological differences to protect our country at home and abroad," he said. "This has to be resolved quickly."

The ongoing layoffs, Hoyer added, "will hurt individuals and families, as well as members of the military."

But of 1,150 people originally furloughed from the West Virginia National Guard, Hoyer added, only about 60 are still off their jobs.

But when they receive their paychecks on Friday, Guard members and employees will collect only what they earned through September 30.

"We need to have some approval to pay them [for lost time] when they come back on duty," Hoyer said. "And some have not been able to pay their personal matches on insurance and retirement programs."

But things are better here than in several other places.

"The state of West Virginia goes above and beyond its obligations to run its National Guard," Hoyer said. "But we are still degrading readiness every day [the federal government] doesn't pass a budget....

"One way or the other, West Virginia's National Guard will get what it needs," Hoyer said. Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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