“Support the troops.” It’s one of those slogans that presumably everyone can agree upon. But it is becoming increasingly clear that supporting the government shutdown and supporting the troops at the same time is simply impossible. You’ve got to pick one or the other.

The reason was driven home by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki yesterday when he told a congressional committee that if the shutdown continues through November 1, more than 5 million veterans and their survivors — 3.8 million of those veterans disabled and almost half-a-million listed at “100 percent” disabled — won’t be getting any benefit checks.

For many of those veterans and the families of servicemembers killed while wearing the uniform of their country, those checks are the only way they get by every day.

The total amount of benefit money scheduled to go out in November comes to around $6 billion — just a tiny fraction of the federal budget but as long as the shutdown continue, there’s no money to pay even that amount.

The Department of Veterans Affairs itself employs thousands of veterans, including disabled vets. But thanks to the shutdown, 7,800 VA employees have been kicked out of their jobs. If they lose their benefit checks, too, many are likely to end up on the streets.

Shineski also said that while the VA was previously making progress cutting down the backlog of benefit applications, since the shutdown that progress has been stopped cold and now the backlog is building up again. Which means that even if the shutdown ended soon, veterans who need help will have to wait much longer than they otherwise would have.

The quickly building backlog is due to the decade of war on two fronts in which the United States has engaged since 2002.

Veterans of those two wars “re enrolling in VA care at higher rates than previous generations of veterans,” Shinseki told congress.  “They, along with the veterans of every preceding generation, will be harmed if the shutdown continues.”

Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, criticized the Obama administration for failing to come up with a “contingency plan” to serve veterans during the shutdown.  

But Shineski replied that a government shutdown of the current scale was “unprecedented.” The last shutdown happened in 1996 when the U.S. was not at war.

“What’s best for all veterans is a full budget,” Shinseki said.