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 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.”
Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, said, “We have to be hopeful that Congress will reach some sort of compromise before millions of disabled veterans and survivors are financially devastated.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, was planning 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, 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.
VA confirmed The Post report over the weekend, issuing a statement updating the expected impact of a shutdown.
Although VA has exempted claims processors so it 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, VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, wrote in a tweet Sunday referring to The Post story.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the issue shows why Congress should fund VA’s discretionary budget a year ahead of schedule.
“The current continuing resolution standoff underscores the urgent need for passage of this bipartisan legislation, which would simply enact into law the widely accepted view that America’s veterans should not be held responsible for Washington’s inability to reach an agreement on America’s budget priorities,” said Miller, who has introduced legislation to provide the funding.
The House and Senate veterans committees are seeking more clarity from VA on the impact of a shutdown on veterans, congressional aides said Monday.