WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a Capitol Hill news conference today that the government shutdown is hurting veterans.
Some 7,000 Department of Veterans Affairs workers who had begun to shrink a backlog in disability benefits claims have been laid off. The call center has been shut down for veterans wanting to take advantage of college benefits under the GI Bill. VA offices that do personal interviews and hearings at regional offices for veterans seeking benefits are shut down.
Throughout government, Sanders added, more than one-quarter of the federal workforce, 27.3 percent, are veterans. “That means that today, over 250,000 veterans who are now employed in every branch of government, men and women who put their lives on the line to defend this country, are not getting paid. This shutdown is hurting our entire country. It is especially difficult for our veterans’ community.”
The situation for veterans could soon get much worse.
Looking forward, Sanders said, VA has stated that claims processing for the payment of compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits will continue until VA’s remaining mandatory funds for these programs are exhausted, which is projected to happen in late October – two or three weeks from now. Then VA will need to furlough another 14,000 employees. Again, half of these people are veterans themselves.
“If that disastrous scenario occurs, over four million veterans, service-members and survivors will not get the benefits they have been promised and depend upon. Without the necessary funds, VA will not be able to pay an average of $6.25 billion in monthly compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation benefits. That is an unimaginable disaster.”
If the shutdown persisted, November compensation payments to more than 3.8 million veterans will stop. Payments will also stop for over 364,000 survivors and over 1,200 children receiving special benefits. Pension payments will stop for almost 315,000 veterans and over 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents. Educational benefits will stop for more than half a million students.
“Our veterans are not wealthy. Many of them depend on these benefits to feed themselves and their families, to pay their rent, to make ends meet,” Sanders said.
“Our veterans deserve better,” he concluded.