THE SHUTDOWN, DAY 10: Peninsula veterans could see delay in pension, disability payments
Peninsula Daily News and The Associated Press
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“We have a high veteran population. If there is no agreement, they will not be getting paid,” disability or pension checks, said Tammy Sullenger, administrative assistant/veterans’ coordinator in Clallam County.
She said that about 22,000 veterans live in Clallam County while Jefferson County has about 8,000.
Jake Fish, a veterans service officer with the Fleet Reserve Association, said veterans already are feeling the pinch.
Sullenger and Fish made comments after Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told federal lawmakers Wednesday that about 3.8 million veterans will not receive disability compensation next month if the partial government shutdown continues into late October.
Some 315,000 veterans and 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents nationwide will see pension payments stopped, Shinseki said.
Short term, there’s been a delay in processing claims by an average of about 1,400 per day since the shutdown began Oct. 1. That has stalled the department’s efforts to reduce the backlog of disability claims pending for longer than 125 days.
Fish, a disabled Marine Corps veteran who helps other veterans apply for services, estimated that he sees 10 veterans a day to do the paperwork for services, and about half are not able to have their paperwork processed because of the partial shutdown.
“Most rely on services and have some form of disability,” he said, adding that the most common service-related disability is hearing loss.
Veterans have two paths to disability services, Fish said, with one taking 2½ years and the other six to eight months.
“Add the government shutdown to that,” he said.
Shinseki spelled out some of the dire consequences of a longer-term shutdown in testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
In all, more than $6 billion in benefits to about 5 million veterans and their families would be halted with an extended shutdown.
In some areas, like health care, there have been few adverse effects, Shinseki said. Health care services are funded a year in advance.
In others, such as reducing the claims backlog, Shinseki noted that the backlog has increased by 2,000 since the shutdown began Oct. 1.
At the end of September, the disability claims backlog stood at 418,500, a drop of about 31 percent over the previous six months.
Shinseki drew comparisons to the last shutdown in 1996, a time of sustained peace.
The current shutdown occurs as the war in Afghanistan is in its 13th year and as hundreds of thousands have returned from Iraq.
They are enrolling in VA care at higher rates than previous generations of veterans.
“They, along with the veterans of every preceding generation, will be harmed if the shutdown continues,” Shinseki said.
Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican chairman of the committee, questioned whether the Obama administration had been forthcoming enough in letting veterans know the impact of the shutdown.
For example, VA’s initial guidance did not mention any impact on payments to veterans or the processing of their benefits, although it was updated before the shutdown began.
Miller said a statement by President Barack Obama made it unclear whether veterans would be able to continue getting counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.
They can, at any VA health care facility.
“We’ve had some difficulty in the last couple of weeks getting good information about VA’s contingency plan and the effects a lapse in appropriation would have on veterans,” Miller said.
Shinseki said the VA has confronted “unprecedented legal and programmatic questions” and would do its best to keep lawmakers informed.
The House has passed legislation that would provide veterans disability, pension and other benefits if the shutdown is prolonged.
But the White House has urged lawmakers not to take a piecemeal approach to continuing government services.
Shinseki made that case as well, saying it’s not the best solution for veterans. He noted that even if the VA were fully funded, some services to veterans would suffer.
He said the Labor Department has largely shut down its VETS program, which provides employment and counseling services to veterans.
The Small Business Administration has closed 10 centers focused on helping veterans create and operate businesses.
And the Housing and Urban Development Department is not issuing vouchers to newly homeless vets, though those already receiving the housing aid will still get it.
Last modified: October 09. 2013 6:02PM