As the federal shutdown continues, thousands of veterans might find it harder to gain their promised military benefits as Department of Veterans Affairs offices throughout the nation begin to falter.
More furloughs on the horizon
Nearly 7,000 of the 21,000 Veterans Business Administration employees have been furloughed this week, leading to the closure of regional VA offices, the Army Times reported.
Congress passed a last-minute bill Sept. 30 that ensured active-duty troops and civilian employees of the Department of Defense received their paychecks during the government shutdown. A liberal reading of the law by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel led to the recall of nearly 350,000 furloughed Pentagon workers. Unfortunately, there was no measure to spare the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is currently bracing for the worst as it closes its doors to veterans this week.
According to the news source, the federal furloughs mean that VA offices around the nation will be unable to receive walk-ins or take phone calls from veterans asking for status updates on their benefits, including veterans life insurance, pension payments and disability claims. However, most toll-free phone services – except for the G.I. Bill Center – will remain open.
While a majority of Veterans Business Administration workers are still employed, the suspension of the regional VA offices might have a large impact on former servicemembers, since most veterans rely on their local offices for assistance.
Increase in backlogs
The ongoing federal furloughs have also hindered the progress of the disability claims backlog, which was decreasing before the shutdown began due to mandatory overtime. According to the news source, the VA currently has 725,165 pending benefits claims. More than 400,000 of those claims have extended past the 125-day processing goal set by the VA.
Beginning last May, the VA ordered mandatory overtime for claims processors in 56 regional offices throughout the nation in order to reduce the disability claims backlog and completely eliminate it by 2015, according to a statement released by the agency.
VA officials said that it has reduced the backlog by 30 percent, processing roughly 100,000 disability claims per month. However, the progress might be reversed due to the cancelling of the overtime during the federal shutdown.