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Vet groups: Congress and White House ‘playing chicken’ with lives

Updated at 4:53 p.m.

Veterans groups have reacted angrily to news that an extended government shutdown will leave the Department of Veterans Affairs unable to make disability compensation and pension payments to veterans.

Losing the payments could have a devastating impact, particularly on severely wounded veterans who are unable to work and depend on the VA checks, said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“Congress and the White House, they’re playing chicken with people’s lives,” Tarantino said. “That’s where this becomes scary.”

“We have to be hopeful that Congress will reach some sort of compromise before millions of disabled veterans and survivors are financially devastated,” said Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, plans to introduce legislation Monday evening that would provide funding allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs to continue issuing checks to veterans, a spokesman for his office said.

On Friday, the VA issued a “veterans field guide” stating that compensation and pension claims processing and payments would not be affected by a shutdown,

The Washington Post reported Friday evening that notwithstanding the field guide, department officials had briefed leaders of the House and Senate veterans affairs committees Friday afternoon that they would run out of money for the payments in two to three weeks.

Perplexed congressional officials  complained that the VA field guide was misleading, and that veterans should know whether to plan for financial disruptions.

The VA confirmed the Post report over the weekend, issuing a statement updating the expected impact of a shutdown. While the VA has exempted claims processors so they can process claims, the department will not have money to issue by the end of the month, the statement said.

“Those benefits are provided through appropriated mandatory funding, and that funding will run out by late October,” said the VA statement. “At that point VA will be unable to make any payments.”

“Think a shutdown won’t hurt veterans? Think again,” Tommy Sowers, the VA’s assistant secretary for public and Intergovernmental affairs, wrote in a tweet Sunday referring to the Post story.

The House and Senate veterans committees are seeking more clarity from the VA on the impact of a shutdown on veterans, congressional aides said Monday.