If you can read this, thank a teacher.
If you can read this with hope that those who shut down much of the federal government will soon sound retreat, perhaps thank a veteran.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired four-star general and former Army chief of staff, called on House Republicans last week to pass a “clean CR” or continuing budget resolution to avoid harming millions of veterans.
Shinseki told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that if funds to end staff furloughs aren’t restored soon, VA would not be able to make November payments of pensions, disability compensation or GI Bill allowances to 5.18 million veterans and survivors.
House Republicans countered they had passed a joint resolution to fund VA benefits at 2013 levels, part of a flurry of bills to reopen portions of government viewed as critical or popular with constituents.
Senate Democrats have ignored almost all of them.
But the shutdown, the practice of passing CRs rather than full appropriations, and now the piecemeal approach to funding government drew the wrath of veteran service organizations.
AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars told congressional leaders in a joint letter that their failure to pass a full VA budget “is already causing real harm” to veterans.
Work has stopped on more than 250,000 disability claims. VA disability pay, pension and education benefits are at risk. VA Vocational Rehabilitation offices have cut staff and Labor Department programs to help vets find jobs are suspended.
“Our organizations, and the millions of veterans we represent, will no longer tolerate Congress leveraging veterans’ health and wellbeing to achieve unrelated political ends,” the letter warned.
VA health care is funded under an advanced appropriations process, which is protecting all VA medical facilities as well as 90 percent of the VA budget and staff. Unprotected from the shutdown, however, is the Veterans Benefits Administration, which has furloughed 7,800 employees.
Efforts to reduce the claims backlog are halted, Shinseki said. Indeed the claims backlog grew last week by 2,000 after falling last month by 193,000.
“We have lost ground we had fought hard to take,” the former infantry officer told the committee. The shutdown also has put at risk the goal of ending the backlog by 2015, Shinseki said. And if the VBA furloughs last more than a few weeks, he said, it won’t be able to issue November benefit checks, worth $6.25 billion, to more than 5 million beneficiaries including 400,000 veterans rated 100 percent disabled.
Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: