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Government Shutdown Impact on Veterans, Military

Sep 30, 2013

There will be little or no impact at least on the largest part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the health care administration which runs VA clinics and hospitals.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki
Credit Department of Veterans Affairs

The health care administration is on a two-year budget cycle, so it already has advanced appropriates for 2014 fiscal year according to Karen Collins, public affairs officer for James A. Haley Veterans Hospitals and Clinics.

"So, this means that a majority of our employees will continue to provide health care services to our veterans and active-duty service members here at James A. Haley," Collins said.

But there is a VA Contingency Plan which lists the suspension of some functions like:

  • Claims appeals will be discontinued before the Board of Veterans' Appeals.
  • The Office for Congressional and Legislative Affairs will suspend all functions including: Congressional relations; Responding to congressional requests for information; Processing testimony and questions for the record; Congressional correspondence; Constituent casework; Advisory Committee Management; GAO coordination.

The USA Today newspaper answered 66 questions about the shutdown .Here are a few relating to veterans services like benefits that are not part of health care:

  • What will happen to veterans receiving compensation for service- or combat-related wounds and injuries? The Department of Veterans Affairs said if the shutdown continues into late October, it will run out of money for compensation and pension checks to more than 3.6 million veterans who rely on the money to support themselves.
  • Does that mean I can't get a VA mortgage? No. The Department of Veterans Affairs says loans are funded via user fees and should continue. However, during the last shutdown, "loan Guaranty certificates of eligibility and certificates of reasonable value were delayed."
  • Will deceased veterans still be able to get a burial benefit? Yes. Burial benefits, headstones and death notices will still be available.

Here's a helpful Government Shutdown Questions and Answers section produced by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Some of the key questions:

  • What about my VA disability, pension, or GI Bill? Will I still get those? All payments for the month of October are already out. VA benefits are protected and should go out during a shutdown. However, the VA recently announced that if the shutdown lasts longer than 2-3 weeks, the VA might not have enough cash on hand to pay benefits in November.
  • Does that mean that I won’t get my benefits in November? Possibly. The VA has not given any specifics on what will happen if the shutdown continues for the next few weeks, and they run out of cash on hand. IAVA will keep pushing for more information and get it to you as soon as possible.
  • I’ve appealed my VA disability claim. Does this mean that I’ll be waiting longer? Yes. All work on appeals will be halted during the shutdown.
  • I’m serving in the Military. Will I still get paid? You should have already received your Oct. 1 paycheck. Currently, if the shutdown extends beyond the 15th, you will not get your mid-month pay until the shutdown ends. You will still accrue pay, but the money will not be deposited until the government resumes operations. The House has passed a bill to keep the military paid during the shutdown and we are expecting the Senate to pass it sometime before the shutdown takes effect. IAVA will keep a close eye on this and update you if this changes.

Department of Defense

According to a release Friday from the Department of Defense, about half of the civilian employees will be furloughed. That means some 400,000 workers will not go to work.

Under Secretary of Defense and Chief Financial Officer Robert Hale
Credit Department of Defense

Priority is given to operations relating to the war in Afghanistan and to safety operations such as fire, police and emergency medical.

A DoD news release states that pay of government employees could also be seriously affected.

“Military and other civilians directed to work would be paid retroactively once the lapse of appropriation ends,” Robert F. Hale, Under Secretary of Defense and Chief Financial Officer.  “Civilians on emergency furloughs … would be paid retroactively only if a law is enacted providing the authority to pay them.”

“We would also be required to do some other bad things to our people,” Hale said. “Just some examples, we couldn’t immediately pay death gratuities to those who die on active duty during the lapse, we would have to close stateside commissaries, promotion boards and other similar personnel activities would be disrupted -- probably would have to be stopped -- and a number of other actions.”

The Department of Defense has created a website: Government Shutdown What You Need to Know  with guidance for contingency plans.