By Debbie Gregory.
The government shutdown has created hardships for many Americans. But for Veterans, the worst may be yet to come.
If the shutdown hasn’t ended by November 1, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) said that it wouldn’t be able to send out benefits checks to approximately 5.2 million Veterans and family members. Disabled Veterans, Veteran students, and Veterans depending on living stipends would all be affected.
Approximately 2,000 new VA claims have been backlogged, and the problem will only get worse. Thousands of VA employees face furloughs as funding is depleted. The furloughs will restrict program offerings for the department. Just this week, the VA furloughed about 10,500 more employees, most of which are involved with benefits and information technology projects.
In September, VA officials initially said that the impact of a government shutdown should have been minimal on department operations. A reason for this optimism was due to the fact that much of the department’s health care is funded a full year in advance.
But VA leaders have since warned that if the shutdown stretched into late October, the consequences could be dire. More than $6 billion in Veterans benefits checks are due at the start of November. Many of these checks go to families in financial distress because of lingering military injuries, and to Veteran students utilizing the Post-911 GI Bill. Veteran students may be without their housing allowance.
Officials could not give an exact date when the VA’s appropriations accounts would run out. But like the rest of us, when balancing our checkbooks, the VA cannot continue to send checks out if there aren’t enough funds in their accounts.
Lawmakers also noted that Veterans make up close 30 percent of the federal workforce. And many federal employees are facing paycheck uncertainty because of the budget fight.
At least for our Veterans’ sake, let’s hope that the shutdown ends as soon as possible.