As of the date this blog was written, Congress has not resolved the dispute about funding the Affordable Care Act. So, circumstances seem to support the conclusion that the Federal Government will cease some operations and reduce others. A shutdown would certainly impact VA operations; but, the question is the extent of that impact.
September 23 Memo from VA Chief of Staff Jose Riojas
VA Chief of Staff Jose Riojas provided some answers in a memo issued Monday, September 23. In the event of a shutdown, the VA would furlough 20,000 staff members who work on life insurance policies and review disability compensation claims specifically under the Board of Veterans Appeals. While the Board of Veterans Appeals will not issue decisions, life insurance claims will be processed but at a reduced rate.
The absence of BVA decisions would slow the progress the VA has been trying to make in reducing the backlog of appeals claims. It probably would not impact the processing of original compensation claims. According to the VA, 434,681 claims for compensation and pension were “backlogged” – meaning claims that have been pending for over 125 days. The total number of claims awaiting a decision was 736,666. These were the figures as of Monday, September 23, and progress is likely to continue even in an environment of a government shutdown.
Most Benefits and Medical Care to Continue
The large fraction of VA operations will continue because Congress appropriates the VA medical budget one year in advance. So the VA’s budget for fiscal year 2014 has already been approved. Medical care will continue including mental health counseling at vet centers. Likewise, veterans will continue to be able to have prescriptions filled. Claims workers will continue to process payments for disability and pension compensation. This means the VA would continue to write checks for compensation and pension awards already established.
VA Operations Affected by Government Shutdown
Services listed as “impacted by potential lapse in appropriations” include:
- VBA Regional Offices public contact services will be not available. (In my experience, this service is typically unavailable anyway.)
- No decisions on claims appeals or motions will be issued by the BVA
- Freedom of Information Act queries will not be processed
- Privacy Act requests will not be processed
- VA’s homepage will be updated intermittently
- VA’s main and hospital Social Media web sites will be updated intermittently
- Recruiting and hiring of Veteran job applicants will cease
- Presidential Memorial certificates will not be processed
- Interments at National Cemeteries will be conducted at a reduced rate
- Overseas Military coordinator operations will be suspended
- VA Secretary correspondences with Veterans and VSO’s would be suspended
- Outreach and public awareness activities would be impacted
- VetSuccess on Campuses would be suspended
- Vocational Rehabilitation and education counseling would be limited
Bosley & Bratch intends to keep updating news about how veterans are affected by the government shutdown here on our blog.