Sep 28, 2013 Comments Off Niki Monroe
Excerpted from DEFCON HILL: Health care and other benefits for veterans from the Department of Veterans Affairs would be largely protected if the government shuts down on Tuesday because of the way the benefits are funded by Congress.
But veterans advocates are concerned that a shutdown could halt progress that the VA has made to reduce its backlog of disability claims.
“Since March, the VA has decreased the backlog by almost 30 percent, due to a whole host of new initiatives, but also due to mandatory overtime,” said Kate O’Gorman, political director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
“That movement is something that vets have really welcomed, but all of that is threatened by a government shutdown.”
Most VA workers will not be furloughed in a shutdown. According to a planning document released Friday, only 14,200 of the VA’s 332,000 employees are subject to furlough.
More than half of the 14,000 furloughed employees, however, are from the Veterans Benefits Administration, which could impact processing of the backlog claims.
O’Gorman said that, based on the last shutdown preparations in 2011, processing of claims could be impacted by the loss of administrative support functions as well as an end to mandatory overtime.
The VA had more than 600,000 disability claims in March that had not been processed in more than 125 days, the VA’s stated goal to move the claims. That number had dropped to under 450,000 in September.
Lawmakers have pressed the VA to make some headway on the claims backlog, which helped lead to mandatory overtime and other measures.
The VA said Friday that most of its functions would remain operational in the event of a shutdown.
All VA medial facilities and clinics would remain open, and benefits checks would continue to go out. Services like military sexual trauma counseling and a veterans’ crisis line would also continue, the VA said in its shutdown guide.
Most VA call centers would stop functioning in a shutdown, including the Veterans Benefits Administration education call center and the inspector general hotline.
The VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals will also make no decisions on claims appeals cases.
Burials at national cemeteries would continue during a shutdown, but it may be on a reduced scheduled, the VA said.
The reason that much of the VA is protected from a government shutdown is due to a 2009 law that funded VA healthcare with advanced appropriations.
The law allowed the VA’s health funding to be passed one-year in advance, which means VA health funding remains in place until the 2015 fiscal year.
“The law allows them to plan ahead and avoid all these budget showdowns that otherwise would put in jeopardy having to close hospitals 9 million veterans rely on,” O’Gorman said.