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Fort Drum civilian employees take to Public Square to protest shutdown

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Shut down and shut out, federal government employees sent home Tuesday from their jobs on Fort Drum gathered Wednesday on Public Square to protest the dysfunction they said was costing them, their families, their community, and the soldiers and country they serve money and trust.

“My sign says it all,” said Loren J. Zeilnhofer, first vice president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 400. “We’re collateral damage for a dysfunctional Congress. But so is the American public.”

Mr. Zeilnhofer’s sign, which read “Congress MIA, Fed Employees and You, Collateral Damage,” prompted honks and gestures of support from occupants of cars passing through the square midmorning.

But the impact of the shutdown quickly goes deeper than politics and economics, according to two nurses assigned to the post’s Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic.

Shelly A. Eggleston and Jeannine E. McKnight both work at the clinic and expressed concern about the impact of the shutdown on the soldiers they serve.

“I took the position there to provide quality medical care,” Mrs. Eggleston said. “Our soldiers have earned the right to quality medical care.”

Mrs. Eggleston said that while active duty staffers will continue to serve the 15 to 20 soldiers the clinic receives daily, they will have reduced support from civilian staff, which numbers 15 or 16.

Ms. McKnight said she was the only member of the clinic’s staff who was furloughed full time. The rest of the civilian staff will report to work on a rotating basis, she said.

Apparently, her position was deemed nonessential based on its official description, Ms. McKnight said.

But the description does not accurately reflect what she does every day, she said.

Ms. McKnight described herself as the center cog in a machine that accepts incoming referrals, schedules appointments with medical staff and processes paperwork for physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Without her, the machine breaks down, she said.

“I’m embarrassed for the U.S. right now,” Ms. McKnight said. “It really is embarrassing that Washington can’t get their act together. They’re battling each other over personal B.S.”

“I’m tired of the games,” said Deborah K. DeVito, secretary at the pharmacy at the Guthrie Medical Clinic. “It’s time to clean house. Get some people in there and straighten things out.”

Robin R. Johnson, a national representative for the union, said that members could call an AFGE hotline at 1-888-775-3148 and enter their ZIP codes to speak with their representatives.

The group is planning to continue demonstrating from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day until the budget impasse behind the shutdown is resolved, according to union President Jeffrey W. Zuhlke.

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