Government Shutdown Q&A: Veterans and military

Oct 02, 2013

What can veterans and members of the military expect from the government shutdown? What happens to VA programs and services? How will benefits be affected? What happens to military pay? Post reporter Steve Vogel has been following the impact of the shutdown on veterans, the VA and the military, and answered your questions in a live chat.

Hi, I'm Steve Vogel with The Washington Post. I cover veteran issues and am here to answer questions about the impact of the government shutdown on veterans.

What are the basic details of the Pay our Military Act that Obama signed the other day? What does it guarantee?

The bill guarantees that service members as well as DoD civilians who have been exempted from furlough will receive paychecks on time. Further details are here.

I've read that benefits for veterans will stop during a "long shutdown." How long is long, in this case? And what benefits would be effected?

The VA says that even though it is keeping claims processors on the job,  it will run out of money for disability and pension checks around the end of October, so the money won't last more than about a month, unless something changes. As we've reported, Sen. Sanders has introduced legislation to provide funding for these payments. But some in Congress have been opposed to allowing certain programs be protected from the shutdown. 

What does the VA warning from yesterday .... that the government shutdown will reverse its progress on lowering the backlog of disability claims ... actually mean? Weeks? Months?

The VA ordered mandatory overtime for claims processors in May, a step they credit with reducing the backlog by 30 percent over 6 months. That overtime has ceased. They haven't predicted how much the backlog will increase, but if the shutdown is prolonged, it could easily increase by tens of thousands of cases, some advocates warn. 

Not to mention that the Board of Veteran Appeals is now no longer able to hear veteran appeals - so thousands of appeals will be delayed.

To all you veterans whining about the shutdown and how the government will pay your bills--maybe you should have DONE THE JOB over in Iraq. Tons of people fought the war of ideas from their keyboards over here, while you went and wasted away the overwhelming firepower and brought nothing of benefit home. After that, now you want us taxpayers to spend MORE money on you when we are BROKE!!!??? Not gonna happen.

I'm guessing the concept of service to your country is a mystery to you. The men and women who served their country are not responsible for policies, in case that's news to you.

Is there a chance of Tricare benefits drying up or even being scaled back if this shutdown becomes prolonged?

Tricare is largely a separate battle from this shutdown, but the issue is certainly a key part of the overall fight over government spending. There are proposals to scale it back - so far, Congress has not shown an appetitite to take on that fight.

Why are there barricades around the outdoor monuments creating the scene that occurred yesterday when the WWII vets were initially denied access? And are there really mounted police to keep further WWII vets out? Where is the funding coming from to pay for this?

My understanding is that Honor Flight vets and others are not being denied entry today, though the memorials remain closed. Park Police, like most other law enforcement, have been deemed essential personnel since they protect the public.

My husband's a National Guard soldier who is scheduled for drill this weekend. Right now his command is saying, "we don't know" if drill will be held or rescheduled or canceled altogether. While it might not be as hard for us as it is for the National Guard technicians who are furloughed (again!), his drill pay is an important part of our monthly budgeting. The sequester has already thrown off the deployment cycle in our state causing a lot of stress and hardships for families and a lack of morale. Also,we get our insurance through the Guard (TRS) and while I understand that shouldn't be effected in the short run, we have a new baby coming that will require a great deal of paper work, which will be hard with almost all of the ID offices in our state closed. As a sibling of a full-time active duty soldier, I am glad that he is still receiving his pay, but the National Guard is an increasingly important and active part of military operations around the world and the soldiers of the National Guard need to be treated with the same respect. Do you know if there is any push to address the needs of the Guard?

These are important issues, and I'm not sure how much clarity we have yet. Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Forces Committee, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Hagel yesterday asking for more information about the provisions for pay and allowances for members of the Guard and Reserve. 

Will veterans disability compensation be delayed or will it be on time for 1 Nov? If delayed, how long?

As things stand now, based on how the VA briefed the congressional leadership, checks will apparently not be issued in November. Veterans who depend on those checks should prepare for that possibility. That said, I find it difficult to believe Congress would actually let that happen. But they have already disappointed a lot of folks...

How does the shutdown affect guardsmen serving on a weekend status? Separately, how does the shutdown affect the GI bill benefits that have already been processed?

GI bill benefits for October have been sent out, but they remain in question for November. As of now, the VA says it will not have the funds

What happens now? Are members of Congress meeting? Are people proposing alternate budget options? It seems like we're just closed down and that's the new normal.

My colleagues in the newsroom are reporting that the White House has invited the four top congressional leaders -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — to the White House for a 5:30 pm meeting over the current budget standoff and looming debt ceiling crisis, according to aides to several participants.

 

I survived the last shutdown just fine. As a military wife, is there anything I should expect differently this time around?

Thanks for your question. A lot could be different this time around. On the floor of the Senate yesterday, Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, warned about a number of possible repercussions for military families. "A shutdown would severely curtain medical services for troops and their families. Commissaries would close. Hundreds of thousands of civilian employees, workers vital to our defense, would be laid off."

Are Public Health Service officers included in the pay bill passed?

They are not included in the language of the Pay Our Military Act that was signed into law Monday.

I wanted to mention this comment from Daniel Dellinger, National Commander of the American Legion. If VA is forced to cancel overtime for its claims processors, "hard-fought progress in the battle to reduce the backlog of undecided benefits claims will be deliberately forfeited. Years of hard work and dedication have finally achieved a reduction in the backlog.

 

"The withdrawal of VA’s commitment to put in the overtime to solve the problem stands to rebuild the backlog, leaving thousands of veterans and their families in limbo. Veterans and their families are not responsible for this federal-spending conflict. They should not be victimized by it."

 

Thanks, everybody, for your questions. We are learning more every day about the impact of the shutdown on veterans and the military, so keep tabs on The Federal Eye

In This Chat
Steve Vogel
Steve Vogel is a reporter for the national staff of The Washington Post who covers the federal government and frequently writes about the military and veterans. Based overseas from 1989 through 1994 and reporting for the Post and Army Times, he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the first Gulf War, and subsequently reported on military operations in Somalia, Rwanda, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. Vogel covered the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and its subsequent reconstruction. He wrote the Military Matters column for the Post, and has also covered politics and law enforcement around the Washington region. Vogel is the author of The Pentagon - A History, published by Random House in 2007, and Through the Perilous Fight, about the British invasion of the Chesapeake in 1814, published in 2013 by Random House.
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