Vet Groups Scramble to Help Vets in VA Furlough
Disabled American Veterans service officers began setting up Tuesday in local DAV posts, Department of Veterans Affairs' medical center,s and even in the parking lots of VA regional offices suddenly closed because of worker furloughs brought on by the government shutdown.
"Right now we've got about 50 of them [set up], but we can build out [as needed]," said Joe Violante, national legislative director for the DAV.
The scramble to set up alternative meeting places to help veterans with disability claims paperwork began after the VA announced late Monday it was temporarily furloughing more than 9,000 employees. The layoffs, some 7,000 in the Veterans Benefits Administration, meant the closure of regional offices across the country.
These facilities typically also house offices staffed by veterans' service organization members trained to handle VA paperwork.
An American Legion spokeswoman said the VSO has not set up in temporary quarters but is directing veterans needing assistance to visit them at local Legion posts or in state and county buildings where there are service officers.
Verna Jones said the organization is now readying messages to let veterans know where they can get help from Legion service officers.
Gerald Manar, deputy director for national service veterans at the VFW, said his officers can access their desks but vets cannot get in the buildings to see them.
"Nearly all service officers have had to cancel appointments with thousands of veterans today and are scrambling to find sites outside regional offices to meet with veterans and their survivors," he told Military.com. "We have been informed that interviews are being scheduled at VFW posts, a state veterans home, in libraries and other locations where they can find a table and some privacy. "
Though he has no exact numbers, Manar anticipates that hundreds of vets will go without the assistance they were counting on because of the furloughs and closings of regional offices.
Violante said that with no one certain how long the VA furloughs will continue, the DAV is looking in some areas for more permanent facilities from which to work.
"In Pittsburgh, we're set up in a parking lot, and it's going to be high-40s/low-50s tomorrow, and raining," he said.
VSO officials said eight days ago, as the government went into shutdown mode after Congress failed to pass a budget at midnight Sept. 30, they would continue to help veterans with paperwork even if they could not access their offices in federal buildings.
Some of those officials are now expressing anger over the shutdown and demanding Congress and the White House hammer out a compromise to end the impasse.
"Our nation's leaders need a reality check," American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger said in a statement released on Tuesday. "Do they really think they are serving the best interests of our veterans – or the best interests of all Americans – by forcing government agencies to shut down?"
The shutdown was triggered last week when the House refused to vote on a budget that did not include language amending or delaying certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Since then, Congress passed and President Obama signed legislation enabling hundreds of thousands of Defense Department civilians to return to the job. House Republicans, who sponsored that legislation, then filed a bill to fund the National Institutes for Health to continue cancer treatment trials for children.
The administration and its supporters say the Republicans are filing piecemeal legislation intended primarily to take the heat off them for causing the shutdown and also benefit from the publicity that attends promoting bills for sick children and veterans.
The Democrats argue that Obamacare has been the law since 2010, has passed muster with the U.S. Supreme Court, and that any moves to change it should be handled through the normal legislative process, as any existing law.
But as the political, social and economic pain that goes with shutdown and furloughs take their toll, VSO leaders say they want an end to a political fight that makes pawns of servicemembers, veterans and their families.
"We don't want to get into a political fight, but you don't hold veterans and military families hostage," DAV Executive Director Garry Augustine told Military.com on Tuesday.
Last week, only days into the shutdown, VFW National Commander William Thien fired off a three-page open letter to Obama and the Republican and Democratic party leadership in the House and Senate demanding they "stop the political gamesmanship and do the job you were elected to do."
"Politics is the art of compromise and it is time for each of you to do just that," Thien said.
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