Government Shutdown Freezes Key VA Services

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki meets with veterans.

While the Department of Veterans Affairs will not shut down all operations, a great many will be hit by the shutdown that started at midnight Tuesday, VA officials said Monday.

“VA medical centers, clinics and other health services have advance appropriations for 2014 and will remain open,” VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said Monday.

There currently are funds available to make sure claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs will continue through late October, she said.

But after that claims processing and the regular payments in those programs will be suspended once funds are exhausted, Dillon said. Also, Veterans Benefits Administration will not be able to keep paying overtime for claims processors – something it began doing to try and tame the controversial backlog of disability compensation claims.

Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that will only reverse the progress the VA has been making in bringing down the claims backlog.

“They got 12,000 claims processed last week,” Tarantino said. “They have been very aggressive in the last six months” in tackling the backlog.

Another sensitive area where the VA can expect to see a slowdown is in burials at national cemeteries. According to Dillon, the internments will continue at the historic cemetery but on a reduced schedule.

Daniel Dellinger, national commander of The American Legion, said in a statement released Monday afternoon that “Congress has an obligation to put veterans ahead of politics.”

“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,” he said. “Our federal government must never put veterans in this kind of position. It is imperative that Congress understands The American Legion strongly objects to the cessation of any VA benefits or services that put our country’s veterans and loved ones at risk.”

The Disabled American Veterans distributed an “Action Alert” early Monday urging members to write or call their representatives and demand they resolve the budget impasse before a shutdown occurs.

The VA, in a two-page “field manual” on the looming crisis, said it will continue to provide healthcare to veterans.

All VA medical facilities and clinics will remain open and fully operational, providing inpatient and outpatient care, surgeries, prescriptions, dental treatments, extended care, mental health care, veterans' centers, nursing home care and special health care services for women vets.

The VA also says it will continue to provide military sexual trauma counseling, home loan processing, vocational rehabilitation payment processing; compensation and pension claims processing, application processing for headstones, markers and medallions, notification of death benefit actions, and fulfilling orders for prosthetics.

But the shutdown will mean suspension of the Veterans Benefits Administration Education Call Center; the VA Inspector General hotline; VA Consumer Affairs email, web and phone contacts; congressional liaison veterans’ queries; and VA job application functions. Recruiting and hiring will cease, the department said.

There will also be no overseas military coordinator operations and VA Secretary communications with veterans service organizations will be suspended, as well as outreach and public awareness programs.

VA social media will also take a hit with the department’s main homepage and hospital Facebook, Twitter and blog accounts updated intermittently.

There will also be no decisions on VA disability claims appeals or motions issued by the Board of Veterans Appeals. Also, Freedom of Information Act queries and Privacy Act requests will not be processed.

Other VA phone numbers that no one will be answering if shutdown occurs are Children of Women Vietnam Veterans; Foreign Medical Program; Spina Bifida Health Care Program; CHAMPVA and the CHAMPVA In-House Treatment Initiative; income verification and means testing; the Gulf War/Agent Orange/Project SHAD/Mustard Agents and Lewsite/Ionizing Radiation hotline; and the Whistle-Blower Reprisal hotline.

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