What a Government Shutdown Means for Veterans
Posted by Kate O'Gorman on September 25
We have heard from a number of veterans concerned about the impact of a possible government shutdown. The following information is based on the latest guidance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). We will update as new information becomes available.
If Congress can’t find a deal by Monday, the government will shut down, leaving just enough resources to cover the essential services of the government. While veterans may be more protected than other constituencies, a government shut down does not bode well for top priorities within the veterans’ community.
One thing is protected - VA healthcare. In 2011, the veterans’ community banded together to call on Congress to fund the VA one year in advance. This allows the VA healthcare to plan ahead and ensures that VA healthcare is funded for an additional year beyond the government shut down. This is invaluable to veterans, and why IAVA supports the HR. 813 to extend advanced funding to the whole VA.
What’s Probably Protected:
But beyond VA healthcare, it is less clear how veterans will be impacted by a government shut down. Based on the past, we expect that VA benefits will continue to go out to those who have been awarded benefits. For instance, if you are a veteran with a 50% disability benefit, we expect for you to continue to get your disability benefits under a government shut down. If you have a VA pension, we expect these benefits to continue to be paid. The GI Bill is the one exception: there has not been a government shut down since the Post-9/11 GI Bill was passed and so we do not know if checks will go out on time.
While veterans are more protected than other parts of the federal government, veterans and their families should still be concerned. Government shut down may threaten progress on the VA backlog. Since March, the VA backlog has decreased by almost 30 percent because of a renewed focus, new initiatives, and overtime. These efforts are in jeopardy if the government shuts down. In the past, the VA has been able to plan ahead to retain the large majority of the claims workers to process VA disability claims. Yet, because the VA will lose administrative support, claims processing may be slowed or may even shut down. It is also unlikely whether mandatory overtime – a key component of the VA’s major progress on the disability claims – will be continued under a government shutdown.
But the impact on the VA will reach beyond the VA backlog. The VA’s customer service hotlines and staff will likely close, meaning that veterans’ questions will go unanswered. Recent VA efforts educate and enroll veterans about their benefits may be delayed.
The troops may not be paid if the government shuts down. If the government shuts down between paychecks but re-opens before the next paycheck, troops shouldn’t notice a difference. But, if the government shut down extends through pay-day, service members should expect their checks to be delayed. In the past, Congress has acted to make sure that the troops are paid on time if the government shuts down. We hope that Congress will act quickly to guarantee this again if we move towards shut down.
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