Impasse Puts Some Lives on Hold; Workers Being Recalled to Prevent Huge Backlog in Service Requests
From The Washington Post archives
Published: November 17, 1995, Friday, Final Edition
For five years, Carl Schlager of Walkertown, N.C., has waited to plead his case before the Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington. But two days ago his appointment was canceled because of the government shutdown.
Schlager, 39, claims he has constant pain from his 10 years of loading bombs for the Air Force at bases in Germany, New York, South Carolina and Louisiana. He has had one hip replaced and said doctors have told him he will need surgery to replace the other one. He had already committed to his trip here, working a weekend shift in order to get the day off, when veterans officials told him there would be no hearing Wednesday. Now, he said, he will have to take more time off from work for the rescheduled hearing. "It's not a hop, skip and a jump. It's a 300-mile haul," Schlager said yesterday. "I'm not surprised at anything our government does anymore."
Schlager was one of thousands of Americans whose lives were put on hold by the government this week. President Clinton, arguing that government services would be strained if shut down too long, ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration and the Health and Human Services Department yesterday to bring back workers to answer telephones and process claims.
"If the government shutdown continues to prevent action to accept applications for Medicare, Social Security and veterans' benefits made by seniors and veterans, this backlog would be so great that service to these citizens would not return to normal for months to come," Clinton said.
Social Security, which has 4,780 employees on duty now, will have 54,495 workers staffing 1,300 field offices around the country and answering telephones at 37 centers on Monday, a spokesman said. About 11,700 employees will remain on furlough.
On an average day, Social Security receives 28,000 applications for retirement, survivors or disability benefits. The shutdown virtually guarantees that the processing of new claims will be slower than usual next week.
The VA will send 1,700 claims personnel back into its regional offices and hospitals to accept new claims from veterans. But a spokeswoman noted that the workers will not be able to process the 400,000 claims awaiting final action within the vast VA bureaucracy.
The returning personnel will answer telephone calls and date all incoming mail, the spokeswoman said. The VA had 381 personnel in its benefit offices this week to accept emergency claims, but even with the additional people going back to work Monday, 10,719 benefits workers will remain furloughed.