With threats of cutbacks to the work hours and earnings of more than three-quarters of a million defense support workers, the leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization is reiterating his strong stand against sequestration, the $1 trillion automatic government spending cuts – mostly to defense budgets – that will begin their 10-year course on March 1 unless Congress intervenes.

“I cannot state strongly enough that sequestration as it impacts weapons systems development and maintenance, military manpower and, now, the livelihoods of civilian support employees, must not happen,” National Commander James E. Koutz of The American Legion said.

In a conference call today from the office of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to The American Legion and fellow veterans’ and military support organizations, warnings were issued that, should sequestration take effect in its present form, the Pentagon will be forced to furlough its 800,000 civilian employees, likely cutting back their work weeks by one day and causing workers to lose that day’s pay each week, with no means of recouping it. The military services and other Pentagon employers have until March 1 to submit a furlough implementation plan. Some exemptions from the furloughs will be allowed, says the Defense secretary’s office, but they will be very limited.

“This cutback would not only impose an economic hardship on those workers and their families, but the resulting reduction in workforce coverage could also compromise national security,” Koutz said.

Koutz is not alone in his thinking. To make the point concerning sequestration’s impact on civilian defense jobs, Leon Panetta sent a letter dated Feb. 20 to Vice President Joe Biden, whose son is a veteran of the war in Iraq. The letter stated, in part, “If faced with sequestration, the Defense Department will be forced to forego critical objectives. As we make the difficult decisions about how to maintain our national security to the greatest extent we can in light of these destructive cuts, the Department will have to consider furloughs across the entire defense civilian workforce (and) the furloughs contemplated…will do real harm to our national security.”

“Sequestration has become a game of political hot potato, but for the sake of this nation’s future well being and security, this game must stop now,” said Koutz.

The American Legion has adopted two resolutions opposing sequestration’s defense spending cuts. One, passed in late August, “demand(s) that Congress and the Administration cease all efforts to reduce the defense budget from its current level.” The other resolution, approved in October, pledges the Legion to “use all means at its disposal to stave off sequestration cuts to the defense budget.”

The sequestration issue will be a top concern of Legionnaires visiting Capitol Hill during their annual Washington Conference the week of Feb. 25.