Benefit checks for veterans and their families would end Nov. 1, if the shutdown lasts through October, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki told a congressional panel Wednesday morning.
The VA would not be sending checks out to 5.18 million beneficiaries, he told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
In addition, the VA on Monday furloughed about 7,800 Veterans Benefits Administration employees. Once the money for benefits is gone, most of the remaining 13,000 VBA workers will be furloughed, as they won’t have work to do. “At that point we will be forced to furlough these individuals,” Shinseki said, noting that only skeleton crews will be kept on duty.
The Washington Post broke the news Sept. 29 that the VA would be unable to provide benefit checks if the shutdown lasted two or three weeks.
Shinseki acknowledged to lawmakers that the VA was not well prepared for a government shutdown, telling members that he did not believe that Congress would permit such a thing to happen
“If you knew a shutdown was going to happen, it wasn’t shared with me,” Shinseki said during questioning by committee chairman Jeff Miller, (R-Fla.). “I didn’t think you would allow this to happen.”
“A shutdown of government does not occur often, and we had not good plans in place,” Shinseki said. “That didn’t become obvious to us until late September.”
A number of members on the committee said Congress deserves the blame for the problems.
Shinseki painted a grim picture of the impact of the government shutdown is having on veterans, and the prospect for more harm in his testimony.
“There are veterans, service members, families and children counting on us,” Shinseki said. “Five million of them will be impacted, severely.”
“We’ve lost ground we fought hard to take,” Shinseki told a packed committee room in the Cannon House Office Building, referring to a halt in the department’s efforts to reduce the backlog of disability claims filed by veterans. After decreasing by 31 percent since March to about 418,000 at the end of September, the numbers are up by about 2,000 since Oct. 1.
Shinseki also said with the furlough of some 2,700 information technology workers, no work is being done to further develop the paperless Veteran Benefits Management System
There is “no new development being done, and there’s much to be done,” Shinseki said.