Shutdown Threat to Benefits

VA Secretary: If shutdown lasts until Nov. 1, benefits cease for 5.2 million veterans

The government shutdown has been painful, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said, but the worst is yet to come.

On Nov. 1, if the ongoing budget battle isn’t resolved, the department won’t be able to send out benefits checks to nearly 5.2 million veterans and family members, Shinseki told members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday. Veterans depending on disability benefits, living stipends and tuition payments will all be affected.

The claims backlog has already jumped sharply in the first full week since the shutdown — up about 2,000 cases, after a steady six-month downward trend — and the problem will only worsen.

And thousands of VA employees face furloughs as funding dries up, which will restrict program offerings for the department.

“All of the effects of the shutdown are negative,” Shinseki told lawmakers. “We’re asking (Congress) to help us get back to work full-time.”

Lawmakers appear no closer to that. Negotiations on a budget fix have stalled since the start of the month, as Republicans and Democrats argue whether to include changes to the Affordable Care Act and deficit reduction proposals in a measure to fund government operations.

Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., acknowledged, “There is plenty of blame to go around as to why we’re in this position,” but also chastised the VA for providing incomplete and sometimes confusing information over the effects of the shutdown on veterans.

He also criticized VA for failing to lobby the Senate to pass a House-backed appropriations bill that would have fully funded the department a year in advance, regardless of shutdown threats. Department officials have not offered support for the measure.

Originally published by Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved.


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