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Disabled Vets Feeling Effects Of Govt. Shutdown

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WYLIE (CBSDFW.COM) - Thursday mornings at Equest therapeutic horsemanship in Wylie, a group of Veterans meets.

The men and women—who mostly served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—are there for therapy. Working and riding the horses is one way for wounded warriors to ease back into civilian life.

In the last year and a half, the Equest Hooves for Heroes program has worked with over 70 DFW Veterans.

“We don’t think [these people] are charity. We are helping our Veterans tap into the exact same qualities that served them when they were in the military,” said Jeff Hensley.

Hensley is a retired Navy Commander and fighter pilot, working with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America in DFW.

He helped form the Hooves for Heroes program with Equest—an equine-focused nonprofit on the shore of Lake Ray Hubbard.

Navy Veteran Shanele Conyers (who suffers from PTSD after serving two tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan and one in Kuwait) finds the weekly companionship with her horse to be relaxing.

“The only thing out here is carrots and hay, so you don’t have to worry so much,” Conyers said.

For a long time, she says, she had difficulty being around other people. But Equest Hooves for Heroes has brought her out of her shell.

Grooming and riding helps keep her mind of bigger problems: the government shutdown is impacting the Department of Veteran Affairs, and consequently, her livelihood.

“I might lose my apartment and start defaulting on bills I’m paying off,” Conyers said of what could happen if she does not receive a check next month.

Nearly 300,000 Texas Veterans receive a monthly disability or pension check.

If the government shutdown does not end before November, the VA Secretary says, VA will not be able to pay them.

Appropriations pay for funding of the Veterans Benefits Administration through late October, but those funds are expected to be exhausted in a matter of weeks.

While VA medical facilities remain funded through 2014, other departments for Veterans are affected by the government shutdown.

The VBA furloughed over 7,000 employees starting October 8th, which is impacting the processing of disability claims.

Theodore Keeler is an Army Veteran, suffering anxiety.

He’s already waited two years he says, for his claim to be processed. It’s now in the appeals stage.

Keeler is concerned about what further delays may lay ahead.

“I think all Vets who served the country and deserve some type of disability benefit, shouldn’t have any doubts about their money coming in,” Keeler said.

Testifying before Congress this week, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appealed legislators, detailing of the impact the shutdown has each day.

Progress made in catching up on hundreds of thousands of claims for disability has slowed.

Processing and payments in compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October, Shinseki said. However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments would be suspended when funding is exhausted.

Hensley suggests, the government take a cue from Veterans: men and women who worked together to get the mission accomplished.

“They know how to be dedicated to something that’s more important than our self-interests. Congress obviously hasn’t gotten that message,” Hensley said.

Equest is hosting a fundraising golf tournament November 3-4 at Las Colinas Country Club, to benefit the Hooves for Heroes program.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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