More than 7,000 Veterans Benefits Administration employees and 2,754 VA Office of Information Technology employees were placed on furlough starting Tuesday. And VA said the move will eliminate public access to VBA regional offices, meaning the agency can’t conduct personal interviews, process GI Bill benefits and offer work and education counseling — and American Legion service officers will no longer be able to use space at those offices.
The development of VA software has been put on hold, too, along with the management of Veterans Benefits Management System. Claims processing and payments will continue until funding is exhausted, which is expected to occur near the end of the month. But mandatory overtime for claims processors, a strategy being used to cut into the VA’s claims backlog, is being halted for now.
The Veterans Health Administration will keep its VA hospitals, clinics and other health services open due to advance appropriations.
Internments by the National Cemetery Administration will continue but potentially on a “reduced schedule.”
“Now we’ve reached the point where VA can’t even process benefits claims for our men and women who served in uniform,” said Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion. “Our nation’s leaders need a reality check. 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?”
And on Capitol Hill, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) used the furloughs as a chance to lambaste Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for his role in the lingering Washington standoff.
“VA employees should be worrying about VA’s mission of service to veterans, not managing an agency on spare change remaining from last year,” Miller said.
Reid’s unwillingness to try a “piecemeal” approach by passing veterans funding bills is jeopardizing veterans’ benefits, Miller added.
“It’s been 125 days since the House passed the full military construction and VA appropriations bill, so it’s well past time for Harry Reid to stop the games and fund VA,” he said. “If not, he owes America’s veterans an explanation for why he’s putting their benefits at risk.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is scheduled to testify Wednesday before Miller’s VA committee, where he’s slated to explain more about how the shutdown affects his agency’s operations.