If a government shutdown continues through the end of October, the Veterans Affairs Department said it will have to cut off disability and education benefits payments, which could cause financial devastation to veterans, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Veterans Benefits Administration claims processors will continue to handle disability and education claims during a shutdown, VA said. The department employs roughly 19,000 claims processors.
“VA has excepted VBA claims processors so that it can continue to process claims and beneficiaries will continue to receive their payments,” VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said. “However, those benefits are provided through appropriated mandatory funding, and that funding will run out by late October. At that point, VA will be unable to make any payments.”
VA will only update its main Web page and hospital Facebook and Twitter feeds intermittently during a shutdown, the department said in a fact sheet. VA also said it will furlough its entire public affairs staff during a shutdown.
Call centers for disability claims will operate during the shutdown, but VA said it will close the education benefits hotline. VA will also not operate provide matriculated vets with on-campus counselors.
The 152 hospitals, 800-plus clinics and 300 vet centers operated by the Veterans Health Admninistration, funded by multi-year appropriations, will continue to operate, VA said. VHA employs roughly 250,000 people who would continue to work and draw pay during a shutdown.
A shutdown would also hit burials at cemeteries operated by the VA, which said internments would be “conducted on a modified rate.”
VFW spokesman Joe Davis said, “We have to be hopeful that Congress will reach some sort of comprise before millions of disabled veterans and survivors are financially devastated.”
American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger appealed to lawmakers. “Congress has an obligation to put veterans ahead of politics,” he said. “The fact that funding for VA benefits could disappear in a month ought to be incentive enough for our elected leaders to achieve a solution.”
A shutdown was not expected to have a major effect on most of those receiving GI Bill benefits. “As best as we can tell from the statements and plans released by VA, most if not all current GI Bill recipients will see no impact to their classes or payments for benefits,” said Brian Hawthorne, a spokesman for Student Veterans of America.
“Benefits processing will continue, including educational benefits applications, processing and payments to recipients,” he said. “However, the GI Bill hotline will not be available to answer questions, VetSuccess on Campus representatives will not be available to help the student veterans who need them, and there will be only limited vocational rehabilitation counseling services available at other locations, if at all.”
Hawthorne urged “Congress to come to an agreement to keep our government open. Millions of veterans rely on many services that will be unavailable in the event of a government shut down, in and outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and these services are essential to effectively transitioning from military service, supporting a family, earning an education, or getting a job.”