Statements on U.S. Government Shutdown and Impacts on Veterans

At American Heroes Channel, we're always looking to serve our viewers, especially military veterans. Recently, several veteran organizations have issued statements on the impact of the government shutdown, and we have compiled them here as a service to you:

• Vietnam Veterans of America

• Paralyzed Veterans of America

• Wounded Warrior Project

• National Military Family Association

• Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

• Student Veterans of America

• The American Legion

• Veterans of Foreign Wars

• Disabled American Veterans

• AMVETS

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Vietnam Veterans of America

VVA Legislative Update October 11, 2013

Government Shuts Down, October 1, 2013

Department of Veterans Affairs Appropriations Lapse Plan

Updated October 7

Annual funding for the federal government expired Monday, Sept. 30. The President, the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued several documents that will provide information for Veterans and their families about program and services administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs that WILL and will NOT impact veterans and their families until Congress appropriates funding for program and services under Title 38 of the US Code.

Vietnam Veterans of America has provided a brief overview below of what programs and services that WILL or will NOT be impacted during this shutdown. In the event of a prolonged shutdown, VA will continue to review and update its plan in conjunction with the applicable legal requirements and circumstances.

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Paralyzed Veterans of America

STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD OF PARALYZED VETERANS OF AMERICA FOR THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS CONCERNING THE EFFECT OF THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN ON VETERANS BENEFITS AND THE OPERATIONS OF THE VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION

October 9, 2013

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Michaud, and members of the Committee, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) would like to thank you for the opportunity to offer our views on the effect that the federal government shutdown is having and could potentially have on the operations of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the payment of veterans benefits. As the shutdown has now stretched into a second week, veterans anxiously await a solution that will ensure benefits and services are not disrupted. Unfortunately, that prospect of a solution seems more and more unlikely with each passing day.

Without question, the number one concern that has been raised by our members is whether or not they will receive their compensation and pension benefits at the end of October. Similarly, we have received some questions about payment of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation as well. Everyone has been caught off guard by this problem because no one seemed to realize that an authorization would be required in order to pay veterans benefits. While we appreciate the intent behind the various legislative measures that have been considered to establish this authorization during the shutdown, we must emphasize that we cannot support this method of doing business. If Congress is serious about addressing this problem, then it should fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its programs immediately.

It is our understanding that many parts of the operations of VBA will be shuttered this week. While VBA retained some carryover funds to continue operations for a limited period of time, those funds are drying up quickly. As a result, more employees will be furloughed as the days and weeks progress. Interestingly, we have received conflicting reports as to what affect the furloughs and office closures are having on our own field operations. It is our understanding that some Regional Offices are all but closed while some remain at least partially open. Some of our National Service Officers (NSO) have access to federal facilities while others do not. Additionally, the information available to our NSO’s will be limited to what can be obtained from the VBA systems which remain functional during the shutdown. It is also more widely understood that while our NSO’s may still be working, veterans seeking claims assistance will be unable to come into the Regional Offices to meet with them. We have real concerns that given the wide-ranging feedback we have received from the field, it seems that VA has no clear and consistent plan for the Regional Offices to handle the shutdown, as well as why the veterans’ service organizations have been kept in the dark about what the plans are moving forward.

It is our understanding that VA Call centers that provide information and assistance on a broad range of VA benefits and services will not be available. Claimants will thus be in danger of losing entitlement to benefits which are time sensitive. VA has informed us that during this period it will date stamp any mail that it receives for claims purposes in order to preserve the date of claim. However, we question what will happen to claimants who were unable to obtain relevant information that would have prompted the timely submission of a claim.

Similarly, we have serious concerns about the impact that the government shutdown will have on the process for providing Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) benefits. SAH claims require expeditious follow-up to the multiple step processes that are required to provide a safe environment to catastrophically disabled veterans. Many veterans with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) experience rapid exacerbations of their terminal illness which require appropriate modifications to their home to protect them from the hazards of everyday living. The role of VA employees who handle SAH in these cases is to evaluate the needs of the veteran and coordinate the various building codes and other related issues to facilitate the implementation of the needed home modifications as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the decrease in the VBA workforce as a result of the shutdown will certainly cause unnecessary delays to SAH claims that may result in severe consequences for veterans who need the greatest assistance.

Meanwhile, the function of the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) and its widespread implementation is jeopardized by the shutdown. VBMS roll outs are already falling behind schedule and the furlough will further erode the progress of this critical VBA initiative. The incremental releases which build on the ability of VSO’s to better support the claims adjudication process will be delayed and will likely have a reverse catalytic effect to the progress that has been made. Additionally, the system, which requires significant and ongoing maintenance through the Information Technology (IT) management structure just to remain operational, will likely experience considerable down time.

Similarly, the Stakeholder Enterprise Portal (SEP) and other IT initiatives will not be supported and related problems will go unresolved. SEP is used to obtain the status of claims and payment history. The program is user friendly when it operates properly, but intervention at the current stage of development is often required to reconcile technical issues for individual issues and to develop patches for more broad based problems. With IT staff that support VBA’s operations furloughed, any problems that arise with the IT support systems will simply languish, further slowing the ability of VBA to process claims in a timely fashion.

Finally, what will be the long term impact on claims processing in general? The longer the government shutdown continues, the greater inevitable effect it will have on the increase in the claims and appeals backlog. This is of particular concern as it relates to the erosion of the progress made since April and the ability to meet the 2015 target set by Secretary Shinseki. The shutdown will have an impact, but we do not want it to become an excuse for failure to meet the stated goals.

Ultimately, the partisan bickering and political gridlock that have put veterans’ benefits and services at risk is unacceptable. We cannot emphasize enough our opposition to funding the operations of the VA through short-term continuing resolutions (CRs) or other stop-gap measures, such as the partial funding measures that have been debated in the House of Representatives. While we recognize the fact that the House did in fact complete the “FY 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act” earlier this year, it is time for the political grandstanding to stop. PVA, along with our partners in The Independent Budget—AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, and Veterans of Foreign Wars—just last week called on the leadership of the House and Senate to take immediate action to enact the full year FY 2014 appropriations bill for the VA.

Additionally, the activities in Congress over the last two weeks (and really for many years) further affirm the need to approve legislation to make the VBA and all other VA programs a part of advance appropriations. Advance appropriations have shielded VA health care from most of the harmful effects of the current government shutdown as well as prior continuing resolutions. The Independent Budget called on leadership last week to immediately bring H.R. 813, the “Putting Veterans Funding First Act,” to the floor for consideration, amendment and approval. We hope that you will continue your efforts to see this critical legislation through to final enactment.

In the end, PVA, the co-authors of The Independent Budget, our partners in the veterans’ service organization community, and the millions of veterans that we represent will no longer tolerate Congress leveraging veterans’ health care and benefits to achieve unrelated political ends. The actions of Congress in the last couple of weeks reflect a failure of leadership. Congress’ obligation to veterans does not start in the eleventh hour of a national crisis; you have an obligation to pass a timely, sufficient budget for all veterans programs, benefits and services.

We appreciate the bipartisan atmosphere that this Committee has often experienced. And yet, even that has now been tarnished. It is time for this nonsense to stop.

PVA thanks you once again for allowing us to submit comments for the record. We will continue to keep the Committee staff updated on the impact of the shutdown on VBA as well as our own operations. We would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

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Wounded Warrior Project

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN STATEMENT

Wounded Warrior Project is outraged that the continued gridlock and government shutdown is now threatening the disbursement of benefits payments to the brave men and women who served and sacrificed for this nation. These wounded veterans bear both the visible and invisible wounds of wars from burns and amputations, traumatic brain injuries and paralysis to combat stress, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. These warriors have already sacrificed so much, it is unfathomable and unacceptable to ask them to bear any further burdens. It is the fundamental responsibility of the government to pay these service members their benefits and any disruption to those payments is shameful. These payments were earned in service to our nation. They’ve earned it; they’re owed it.

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National Military Family Association

Government Shutdown 2013: What Military Families Need to Know

No deal: Government still shutdown: Furloughs ending for DoD civilians supporting service members and their families

Military Pay information - updated 10/9; DoD Civilian Info - updated 10/9; Survivor information - updated 10/8; Pay Information - updated 10/8; Commissaries - updated 10/7

Will my service member be paid?

Pay will be received on time. Military pay is protected for five of the seven Uniformed Services. The President signed Pay our Military Act into law which will provide pay and allowances to the service members who are part of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. Unfortunately, the new law does not cover pay for the Commissioned Corps of Public Health Services or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

DFAS received final guidance from DoD and normal pay and allowances will be processed for the mid-October pay date.

Generally, activated or mobilized National Guard and Reserve will be paid. Guardsmen and Reservists who are in support of excepted operations will be paid. Drills are being cancelled and consequently, those Guardsmen and Reservists will not be paid for those drills. If you are a member of the National Guard and Reserve, please contact your chain of command.

Will military retirees be paid?

Yes, military retirees and survivor benefits are not dependent on regular appropriations. However, retirement checks could be delayed or reduced later in October when the federal government reaches the debt ceiling limit.

What family support and installation services will remain open during a shutdown?

(Military families are encouraged to verify with their local installations.)

Military OneSource will remain open - available by web and phone (800-342-9647) 24/7.

Commissaries are now open.

Child Development Centers will remain open; however School Age Care (SAC) not attached to a CDC may close. Please check with your local installation to determine if alternative arrangements should be made.

Education centers supporting service members and families will be closed.

Tuition assistance will not be authorize or granted for new classes.

Family support center staffing will be determined by installation commanders

Family Advocacy Program staffing will be determined by installation commanders.

Exchanges will remain open.

Military and Family Life Counselors (MFLC) will continue to provide services.

Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Programs (MWR) supporting "excepted activities" such as dining facilities, physical training, and child care activities will remain open.

My Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) will not process new financial assistance requests. However, those with approved financial assistance accounts prior to October 1, 2013 will be processed.

Will access to health care be impacted?

TRICARE has issued a statement about the government shutdown. If you normally get your health care in a military hospital or military clinic, you may find reduced hours. Each military treatment facility (MTF) will establish appointment hours and access to services including lab and pharmacy services. Depending on each military hospital or military clinic’s staffing, there will probably be a different mix of available services. We advise families to call whatever phone number you would normally call for information or to make an appointment before you travel to your military hospital or military clinic for any reason.

As always, if you or a family member has an emergency medical situation, immediately go to the closest emergency room or dial 911. If the need is not an emergency, but you need urgent care and cannot get in touch with anyone at your military hospital or military clinic, we recommend that you call your TRICARE Regional contractor for information and instructions. Here is their contact information:

North: Health Net at 1.877.874.2273

South: Humana at 1.800.444.5445

West: UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans at 1.877.988.9378

Overseas: International SoS and Country-Specific Toll-Free Numbers

If you normally get your care from civilian health care providers, you should not notice a disruption in service due to the shutdown. TRICARE contractors will continue to provide all of their services and their call centers will be operational.

Pharmacy coverage is available. However, if you receive your prescriptions from a military hospital or clinic, please check the pharmacy for updated hours. If you cannot access a military pharmacy, you may have your prescription filled at a network pharmacy. Contact Express Scripts at 1.877.363.1303 if you need assistance obtaining access to a pharmacy.

Will PCS or temporary duty orders be cancelled or delayed?

Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders may be canceled or delayed. Service members should talk to their command for specific information about your orders. Personnel who work at transportation offices may be furloughed.

The official DoD guidance is vague:

Separation orders will continue

Initial entry/recruitment moves will continue

Other moves only TO an excepted activity

Other moves only FROM an excepted activity if deemed essential to the mission or to enhance excepted activities (determined by command)

Bottomline – service members must check with their command.

Will the shutdown impact my VA benefits, such as VA healthcare, the Post-9/11 GI Bill payments, or disability claims?

The Department of Veterans Affairs has issued guidance on what services will be delayed and what services will continue. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have provided veteran specific government shutdown FAQs.

Some frequently asked veteran specific questions include:

Will I still be able to receive health care from a VA hospital or clinic?

Yes, in 2009 Congress passed a law to fund VA health care one year in advance. Additional the Veterans Crisis Line will remain open.

What about VA disability, pension, or GI Bill payments?

All payments for October are already processed. VA benefits are protected and should continue during a shutdown. However, if the shutdown lasts longer than 2 – 3 weeks benefit payments for November could be impacted.

Will VA claims continue to be processed?

It depends on the type of claim. There will be delays for new claims and appeals. The Veterans Field Guide to Government Shutdown states, Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October. However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted.

Please note some VA phone lines will be closed during the shutdown, including the education benefit line. Please check www.va.gov for updated information.

Will DoDEA schools remain open?

Yes. We have confirmed DoDEA schools are exempt from the shutdown and will remain open.

Will Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees be impacted?

On October 5, Secretary of Defense Hagel announced that DoD civilian employees “whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members,” will return to work. The Secretary’s memorandum listed several activities where civilians would be called back from furlough, including health care, family support programs, commissary operations and installation support. Further legislation is necessary for employees to receive retroactive pay for days lost to the shutdown. The amount of pay for October 1 – 5 will be dependent on whether an employee is exempt, excepted from furlough, or furloughed. Pay will be received on the normal pay date beginning October 11. Read what DoD has to say about Furlough Questions on Civilian Leave and Pay.

Where can we go for financial help?

Do not turn to payday lenders – your military community has the resources to provide assistance. If your family experiences a hardship due to a reduced paycheck, we urge you to seek assistance from a military aid organization or military bank or military credit union. Aid organizations, military banks, and credit unions have short-term loans available to help in this situation.

Aid organizations are ready and willing to help service members and their families.

Air Force Aid Society (AFAS)

Army Emergency Relief (AER)

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA)

Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS)

Reserve Aid

If you are not located near an aid organization, you may contact your local Red Cross to be connected with aid organization resources. Each aid organization has an agreement with the Red Cross to provide the same type of financial assistance to military families who do not live near a military installation.

Our Association has contacted a sampling of military banks and credit unions. Military banks and credit unions have a variety of programs to assist federal employees and service members.

Here is the statement from the Association of Military Banks of America:

"In the event of a government shutdown, the military banks will respond, as they have in the past when faced with natural disasters and pending government shutdowns, by providing tailored, case-by-case assistance to their military and civilian customers. They are well aware of the impact of a government shutdown on the Department of Defense, and understand that service members and civilian employees will be affected. A similar shutdown was threatened in April 2011 and the military banks stood ready then to support their military and civilian customers. If you are in need of assistance, please contact your military bank for more information."

Military families who use automatic payments are encouraged to contact their bank and make alternative arrangements. For example, families may transfer money from a savings account to a checking account to cover the automatic payment.

The National Association of Federal Credit Unions has complied a list of credit unions that will offer assistance to members in event of a shutdown. Credit union members must contact their credit union directly to get complete details. Examples of support include interest free advance credit of direct deposit, loan payment deferment, payment reductions, etc.

We urge military families to contact their bank to review their individual situation and the guidance established by their financial entity. Below are links to banks and credit unions with specific government shutdown plans:

Air Force Federal Credit Union

Marine Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal Credit Union

USAA

Can a service member take leave during a government shutdown?

Normal leave rules apply in this situation. If a service member is already on leave status and the government furloughs employees, then it is the organizational leadership's decision on whether to recall individuals back from leave status based on mission requirements. The unit may be required to pay for all travel costs associated with the recall to the duty location. If military personnel are planning leave, and the government furloughs employees, then it is the organizational leadership's decision on whether to cancel the scheduled/planned leave and have those military members report for duty, or allow them to continue on leave. Again, the mission requirements should inform decision makers. Military commanders will evaluate each leave request on a case by case basis.

Will nutrition assistance programs such as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) still be available? What about free and reduced price school lunches?

The Department of Agriculture has announced that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will continue operations and eligible households will still receive monthly benefits for October. Child Nutrition Programs, which include free and reduced price school lunches, will also continue to be available for eligible families at least through October. However, no funds are available to support the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides nutrition assistance to low income mothers and children. Some states may have reserve funds that allow them to continue administering the program for a limited time. Military families receiving assistance through the WIC program should check with their local office for updates.

Military families who are eligible for WIC and who reside overseas will continue to receive this assistance. Visit TRICARE's website for more information on the WIC Overseas Program.

Will survivors be supported during the shutdown?

On October 10 the President signed a law that will allow the government to pay death gratuity and burial benefits to the families of people who have died on active duty since October 1. The National Military Family Association is grateful to our friends at the Fisher House Foundation for working with the DoD to pay the money to the families, with the promise of being reimbursed by DoD once the shutdown ends. We thank the other charitable organizations like the Service Aid Societies who also stepped in to pay other burial expenses.

On October 5, Secretary of Defense Hagel announced that DoD civilian employees “whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members,” will return to work. The Secretary’s memorandum listed several activities where civilians would be called back from furlough, including health care, family support programs, commissary operations and installation support. It is important to remember that military families will still be affected by the shutdown. We will continue to update this list of frequently asked questions and resources.

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Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Statement for the record for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs:

Statement of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans Of America before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for the hearing entitled “The Effect of Government Shutdown on VA Benefits and Services to Veterans”

October 9, 2013

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Michaud, and Distinguished Members of the Committee:

On behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), I would like to extend our gratitude for the opportunity to share with you our views, thoughts, and concerns regarding the ongoing government shutdown and its impact on the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide benefits and services to America’s veterans.

IAVA is the nation’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their supporters. Founded in 2004, our mission is critically important but simple – to improve the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. With a steadily growing base of nearly 270,000 members and supporters, we strive to help create a society that honors and supports veterans of all generations.

In partnership with other veteran service organizations (VSOs), IAVA has worked tirelessly to see that veterans’ needs and concerns are appropriately addressed by the VA. IAVA has fought hard over the years to not only hold the VA accountable on its promises to our nation’s veterans, but also to ensure that veterans are fully aware of the status of operations within VA.

Lately, however, the political climate in Washington has made doing this a very difficult task. Congress, VSOs, and the public have often received incomplete, inaccurate, and/or inconsistent information from the administration and the VA about how the government shutdown would impact veterans and VA services. These inconsistencies have left veterans confused, concerned, and dismayed.

Since the federal government shutdown began, IAVA has fielded countless calls and received numerous emails, tweets, and Facebook messages from veterans all over the country asking about the impact of the shutdown on their benefits and services. We have heard from a number of veterans who rely on disability and GI Bill benefits and don't know if they'll get their next check. In fact, demand for education resources at IAVA has tripled in just a week.

One recent call came from a female veteran who is 100% disabled with three kids and no savings. If she does not receive her November disability check on time, she worries that she will not be able to pay her rent and electric bill or even buy food for her family. She shared that several other veterans she knows in her own hometown are in the same situation as she is, and they all are worried about what is yet to come.

Another IAVA member veteran recently relayed that he had applied for a VA home loan and had already received his Certificate of Eligibility and appraisal for the home he purchased when his mortgage lender indicated that it may not be able to proceed with the loan due to the government shutdown. While VA’s most updated version of its public guidance on the shutdown states that VA home loan processing should not be impacted by a lapse in appropriations, this veteran’s story is evidence of a common concern we are starting to see: the impact of uncertainty and doubt on businesses that interact with veterans and impact their lives and livelihoods.

Stories such as these are only the tip of the iceberg. We also hear from veterans who are furloughed federal government employees, veterans unsure of what a new wave of furloughs at VA means for services on which they rely, and veterans in the VA disability claims backlog who are worried that their wait will be even longer.

In recent months, we have seen a significant and laudable reduction in the backlog, due in part to a variety of factors such as the special claims processing initiatives, veterans filing more fully developed claims with the guidance of VSO service officers, mandatory overtime for VA claims processors, media attention, and public pressure. But if the shutdown continues, we may not only see a slowdown of this trend, but a potential reversal of the trend. This would represent a major setback for the VA, for veterans, and for the country.

The men and women who served our nation did their jobs without question and without delay, and those currently serving, continue to perform their duties even while questions about whether or not our government will default on its commitment to compensate and care for them and their families. IAVA urges Congress to end this standoff and will restore funding to the government so that it can properly and fully serve our nation’s veteran population.

Veterans are hurting during the shutdown. They need the shutdown to end so they can receive and benefit from the services and support they have earned. But until Congress can re-open the government, our veterans deserve clear, reliable, and accurate information.

Mr. Chairman, IAVA again appreciates the opportunity to offer our views on this important topic, and we look forward to continuing to work with each of you, your staff, and this Committee to continue to improve the lives of veterans and their families.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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Government Shutdown FAQ

Last Updated: 900 October 11th with new information regarding death benefits being reinstated for families of those killed in action -- We have heard from a number of veterans concerned about the impact of a possible government shutdown. The following information is based on the latest guidance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). We will update as new information becomes available.

The federal government has officially shut down, leaving just enough resources to cover the essential services of the government. While veterans may be more protected than other constituencies, a government shutdown does not bode well for top priorities within the veterans’ community.

What if I have a doctor’s appointment or need to go to the VA hospital during the shutdown?

Hospitals should be running normally, or close to normal. VA health care is protected. In 2009, Congress passed a law to fund the VA one year in advance. This allows the VA health care to plan ahead and ensures that VA health care is funded for an additional year beyond the government shut down. All VA medical appointment and prescription drug phone lines will be active during the shutdown. The Veterans Crisis Line will also be protected from a shutdown.

Advance funding for VA health care was the centerpiece of IAVA’s Storm the Hill efforts in 2009, and the current shutdown debate shows how critical our efforts were. That is why IAVA supports the Congressional bill HR. 813 / S. 932 to extend advanced funding to the whole VA and avoid any problems with health care and benefits in the future.

What about my VA disability, pension, or GI Bill? Will I still get those?

All payments for the month of October are already out. VA benefits are protected and should go out during a shutdown. However, the VA recently announced that if the shutdown lasts longer than 2-3 weeks, the VA might not have enough cash on hand to pay benefits in November.

Does that mean that I won’t get my benefits in November?

Possibly. The VA has not given any specifics on what will happen if the shutdown continues for the next few weeks, and they run out of cash on hand. IAVA will keep pushing for more information and get it to you as soon as possible.

I’m still waiting for the VA to process my claim. How will that be affected?

If you filed a claim before the shutdown, the VA will continue to process it, but expect there to be some delay. While the VA employees that are working on your claim are protected from the shutdown, many of the information sources that they use to develop your claim are not. This may slow the process down.

I was just about to file a claim? Should I wait?

No, go ahead and file but be aware that the VA won’t be processing any new claims during the shutdown. However, you should still file to protect your effective date. To reduce any confusion or to ensure that the VA doesn’t lose anything during the uncertainty of the shutdown, we recommend that you file your claim through a National Service Officer from the Disabled American Veterans. They can help guide you through the process and ensure that the VA is on top of it. You can locate a local service officer here.

New Post 9/11 GI Bill claims for next semester will also likely be delayed if the shutdown goes longer than a few weeks since they will not be processing new claims during a shutdown. The VA’s education hotline will be shut off during a shutdown as well. If you are experiencing problems with your GI Bill, you can visit www.NewGIBIll.org for assistance.

I’ve appealed my VA disability claim. Does this mean that I’ll be waiting longer?

Yes. All work on appeals will be halted during the shutdown.

Do furloughs at VA mean that the VA will come to a grinding halt?

No. Health care is protected thanks to advance funding and most benefits processors are considered essential and will continue to work. However, as the shutdown continues more and more VA employees may be furloughed. Starting, October 8, over 7,000 VBA employees and 2,754 Office of Info Tech (OIT) employees will be furloughed. This will suspend a number of services, including the Education Call Center and personal interviews and hearings at regional offices. More VA vocational services and proactive outreach initiatives will close. Additionally, this means that many internal VA support services will slow or halt and this will have an effect on how fast the VA can work. For example, as the VA furloughs IT staff, their ability to respond to bugs it the new digital claims process will degrade. This may continue to slow claims processing. The VA has a plan on how a protracted shutdown will effect staffing.

I’m currently serving in the military. Will I still get paid?

Yes. Last night the president signed the bill passed by both the House and the Senate that would ensure that the military continues to get paid in the event of a shutdown.

What about on base services? How will those be affected?

Military hospitals and clinics should remain open. However, expect many MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) and community services (like commissaries) to be either closed or limiting operations. You can get a good overview here. Your chain of command will have detailed information about what is happening on your local base.

DoD education benefits are also being affected. No new requests for Tuition Assistance (TA) or MyCAA will be approved for classes on or after October 1st. If you were already approved for benefit and have started class before the shutdown, the DoD will continue to pay benefits. We expect TA and MyCAA to resume once the shutdown ends.

Shutdown? I’m deployed to Afghanistan right now. What does this mean?

DoD has stated that combat operations will continue as planned. Be safe and keep driving on. Your chain of command will have any details you need to know and your unit’s FRG (Family Readiness Group) should be able to pass information to your families back home.

I'm in the National Guard or Reserves. What does this mean for my drill?

Your drill may be canceled. Service members will only be paid if they attend drill. All information on your drill's status will come from your chain of command.

I'm in the National Guard or Reserves and I have orders coming up. Do I go or is it canceled?

Not necessarily. Orders after the shutdown (October 1) may still be valid (orders like AT, TDY, ADT, and ADOS). However, all service members should check with their chain of command about the status of your orders as soon as possible. Your command may have new or different directives.

I've heard that during the shutdown, the DoD won't pay death benefits. Is that true?

Families of the fallen will receive the $100,000 death gratuity benefit as well as travel expenses for the bereaved who wish to attend their loved one's reception at Dover or attend a funeral. Previously the DoD was not able to pay these benefits so Congress passed legislation authorizing DoD to release the funds. The President immediately signed the bill and benefits are now restored. During the gap where benefits were not paid, a private foundation, the Fisher House Foundation, stepped up to cover death benefits for the families of the fallen. SGLI should not be affected by the government shutdown, but takes at least a week to get turned on. But, burials at a national cemetery run by the DoD may also be delayed.

Why was my GI Bill payment less than the full amount?

Many of the education calls IAVA is receiving concern the Monthly Living Allowance. Though payments have been approved for October, many veterans and family members are concerned about the amounts of their checks this month. A key reason for the smaller payments, particularly at the beginning of a new semester is that all benefits are prorated for a student’s rate of pursuit or number of classes relative to what is considered full-time for that institution. So part-time students will have their living allowance prorated based on how many classes they are taking. For example, if a student who is taking 7 credits at a school that considers 12 credits full time, that student will receive 60% of the normal living allowance rate. In order to receive any percentage of the allowance, students must be enrolled in at least 1 credit hour above half time, and must not currently be on active duty orders. See what percentage of benefits you should receive by visiting here.

What about this whole debt ceiling thing? How will that work?

If America hits the debt ceiling and defaults on our existing bills, virtually all cash on hand will have to be diverted to paying the interest on the debt. This may halt virtually all pay and benefits and further shut down the government. Since the US has never defaulted before, there is not a lot of clarity on what will happen. IAVA will keep pushing for more information and update you as soon as we can.

How can IAVA help?

As Congress remains gridlocked and plays games with the budget, there remains a great deal of confusion and uncertainty for veterans.

IAVA's case managers are trained to help veterans navigate all types of transition issues. If the government shutdown affects your benefits, livelihood, or wellbeing and you need support, contact us at 855-91-RAPID (72743). We can get you connected to resources and help minimize the disruption to your life.

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Student Veterans of America

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Student Veterans of America's (SVA) executive director Wayne Robinson issued the following statement on the heels of Secretary Shinseki's testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday:

"The current government shutdown has created an overwhelming sense of uncertainty for student veterans. This is not a climate conducive to success in the classroom. Wondering whether or not you'll be able to pay next month's rent or even have GI Bill benefits to remain enrolled in school is unacceptable.

Based on Secretary Shinseki's testimony to the House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday, one thing is clear: 'If the shutdown continues, education benefits and living stipends under our GI Bill program will stop for over 500,000 veterans and servicemembers.' This catastrophic result would likely begin in November.

SVA calls on institutions of higher education to begin thinking of contingency plans to support their student veterans if in fact this situation were to arise.

It is also clear that educating our servicemembers, veterans, and military families has again taken a back seat to politics. This week, the DOD again cut the Tuition Assistance Program, which SVA, the American Legion, and VFW adamantly fought to have reinstated during sequestration.

SVA urges Congress to end this government shutdown and ensure that veterans and their families are able to receive the benefits that they have earned. SVA remains committed to working with Congress, individual institutions, our chapters, and student veterans nationwide to address their concerns and find a quality solution to this challenging issue."

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The American Legion

American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger will address Legionnaires, veterans and their families during a news conference at 2 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15 at the Indiana War Memorial. Dellinger will discuss how the government shutdown continues to negatively affect veterans and their families, and how millions of America’s veterans will stop receiving about $6 billion in benefits on Nov. 1 if a funding decision is not made.

"Imagine how will it feel to be a veteran living month to month on a VA benefits check that may not be paid in November?," Dellinger recently said in regards to the government shutdown. "We’re talking about food, shelter and electricity. We’re talking about survival for people without any safety nets. We can’t put veterans at risk of eviction, homelessness or worse."

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that funding for veterans benefits will become exhausted within two weeks, resulting in the suspension of claims processing for compensation, pension, education, vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits, as well as the suspension of tuition and stipends for hundreds of thousands of veterans and servicemembers. Benefits payments would also be halted for disabled veterans, their surviving spouses and eligible children.

"It is now time for our government in Washington to stand with – and not against – our men and women who have served this country with honor and sacrifice," Dellinger said.

Legionnaires, veterans, military personnel and their families are encouraged to attend the news conference at the Indiana War Memorial, 431 N Meridian St., Indianapolis. The news conference will also be available on www.legion.org one hour after it concludes.

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VA chief to student vets: ‘I can no longer pay’

October 10, 2013

Unless additional mandatory funding for the operations of the Department of Veterans Affairs is allocated quickly, G.I. Bill benefits will soon be endangered. That was the word from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki Wednesday as he appeared before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Before a standing-room-only audience and with a full complement of committee members present, Shinseki spoke for well over two hours of the "all negative" consequences of a prolonged government shutdown and looming lack of funding for the veterans' support agency.

He explained how the expected end-of-the-month exhaustion of VA's congressionally mandated "carryover" funds, designed as a transition instrument from one fiscal year's budget to the next, would negatively impact nearly every aspect of his agency's operations.

Several committee members asked specifically about the effects a depletion of VA funds would have on students now attending institutions of higher learning under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. One such inquiry came from Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Calif.

"What will happen after November the first when they won't get their money?" she asked. "Have you talked to the colleges and institutions and universities?"

Shinseki replied, "We are doing everything we can while we have mandatory funds available in at least two categories in which we will expend money to cover immediately. One is the retroactive aspects of a claim. So if someone ...i s due money, (we will), to the best of our ability, pay those. And, for students currently in school, we will pay those as well.

"But that draws down this mandatory account I'm speaking about (so that) before the end of this month, it'll be in a situation where I can no longer pay. And the (November first) payments that should be going out – we'll not be able to do that unless more mandatory funding is provided."

Negrete McLeod then asked, "So, what happens to students ... who have already started this semester or quarter?"

"This is a crucial question because for students who have already registered and had their tuition and fees (including book stipend) paid up front, I think they're going to be okay," replied Shinseki. "Every situation is different. But, I will not be able to pay the monthly housing stipend. That would be an issue."

"I'm sure (the schools) are aware of our shenanigans here," Negrete McLeod said.

"I can assure you that we've reached out to schools and (are) doing the best we can to get their support and cooperation," Shinseki said. "But, the schools are not involved in the housing stipend. That's directly from VA to the student. So, that is an issue. I will tell you (that) in my past experience the schools (honoring G.I. Bill benefits) have been quite cooperative. But, there are 6,000 of them, so we want to be sure that we have contact with all of them."

As a possible precedent, a number of institutions have announced temporary tuition payment relief for active-duty servicemember students receiving military tuition assistance.

In his testimony, Shinseki intimated that further VA staff furloughs, if necessitated by a lack of congressional accord, would prevent the agency from processing any new G.I. Bill benefit applications.

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Veterans of Foreign Wars

Statement for the Record to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs:

STATEMENT OF

GERALD T. MANAR, DEPUTY DIRECTOR

NATIONAL VETERANS SERVICE

VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE RECORD

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS

UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

WITH RESPECT TO

EFFECT OF GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN ON VA BENEFITS AND SERVICES TO VETERANS

WASHINGTON, D.C.

OCTOBER 9, 2013

MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE:

On behalf of the men and women of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to present our views on the effects of the government shutdown on the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the VFW’s ability to provide service officer assistance to veterans and active duty servicemembers.

Now in the second week of the government shutdown, veterans are raising concerns about receiving compensation, pension and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation at the end of October. We have asked our membership to call and write their members of Congress to tell them to pass a fully funded budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Included in this call-to-action is a request to pass H.R. 813 and S. 932 to ensure that VA will be fully funded through Advance Appropriations in the future.

In conversations with VA personnel and VFW service officers, the effectiveness of our service officers to represent veterans will be greatly impaired. VA has informed the VFW that all service officers, whose offices reside inside the Regional Offices (RO), will continue to have access to their offices to make phone calls and to review claims, but veterans will not be allowed into the buildings for face-to-face meetings. As the ROs begin closing, VFW service officers will have to reschedule meetings off-site to continue to assist veterans. Even if all service officers are granted access, there will be a loss of productivity in taking claims, counseling veterans and, responding to calls and reviewing decisions prior to promulgation.

Our service officers are working to reschedule appointments at locations that range from local Vet Centers to VFW Posts. Aside from the logistics of changing these meeting locations, service officers who do not have access to encrypted laptop computers will have to rely on filing paper claims as opposed to helping veterans file claims electronically. This is counterproductive to the desire of VA to move to an all-electronic claims process.

Currently, our service officers are in their offices to take calls from veterans, allowing for timely responses to questions and concerns. With our service officers rescheduling meetings outside the office, those calls will go to voicemail, leaving our service officers trying to reconnect with the veterans at a later time.

The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) operates on military installations around the country. It is a perfect opportunity for our service officers who are on or near a military installation to introduce themselves to service members and describe how we can assist them in filing a claim. TAP operations are halted by the shutdown at most locations where VFW pre-discharge counselors work. Currently, our service officers at military instillations are working from their usual worksites after being denied access early on. Our service officer at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Wa, will be relocated to the Veterans Home at American Lake VA Hospital if the shutdown continues beyond this week. At some of our pre-discharge locations, the intake sites are closed, so our service officers are either faxing claims to our Department service officer or hand delivering claims to the RO for a date stamp. The VFW also predicts a fall off of service members and veterans who will reach out to us because weekly TAP classes are being disrupted.

It is our understanding that the Board of Veterans Appeals is operating day-to-day. Once this office closes, our service officers who assist at the Board will no longer have access to the building and their work - again, slowing the claims process and denying veterans of their disability and pension claims decisions and appeal denials.

These are the known setbacks of the government shutdown on the everyday work the VFW conducts on behalf of veterans, and the partial impact the shutdown will have on veterans and VA. It is time to stop leveraging veterans against larger political agendas. Partial funding measures or short-term Continuing Resolutions will only continue to adversely affect the care and benefits veterans have earned. So again, the VFW asks Congress to pass a full-year Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bill without delay, and pass H.R. 813 and S. 932 to ensure veteran programs and services are not disrupted in the future.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for allowing the VFW to submit our views for the record. We will continue to inform your Committee of the impact this shutdown has on our daily operations and the veterans we serve.

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VFW VOWS TO HELP THE FAMILIES OF FALLEN HEROES

VFW FOUNDATION TAKING ACTION

October 09, 2013

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, America’s largest organization of combat veterans, has announced that its official charity, the VFW Foundation, is taking urgent action to help the families of fallen U.S. service members. Because of the federal government shutdown, the Pentagon is withholding a $100,000 death gratuity payment that is usually given to relatives of the deceased. Such payments stopped effective September 30, 2013 at 11:59 p.m.

William A. Thien, VFW Commander-in-Chief, called the delay “disgusting and shameful” and stated that, “It is absolutely appalling and nothing short of a travesty that elected officials continue to receive paychecks and benefits while not providing for those who deserve it most.” While imploring the Congress and the President to “immediately resolve this issue” he has directed financial resources be made available from the VFW’s Unmet Needs program which is funded through the VFW Foundation to help affected military families.

Established in 2004, Unmet Needs has granted over $4.7 million to military service personnel and their families for expenses due to rent, mortgage, utilities, vehicle repair, medical expenses and food/basic assistance.

Unmet Needs funds would be made directly available to the families of fallen service members to help with their bills, travel and other pressing financial concerns.

Families are encouraged to call the VFW’s Unmet Needs hotline at 1-866-789-6333, option 1 or visitwww.unmetneeds.org.

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Disabled American Veterans

National Commander expresses outrage in letter to President, House Speaker & Senate Majority Leader

OCTOBER 9, 2013

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

The White House

Washington, D.C. 20500

The Honorable John A. Boehner

Speaker of the House of Representatives

H-232 Capitol Building

Washington, D.C. 20515-6501

The Honorable Harry Reid

Senate Majority Leader

S-221 Capitol Building

Washington, D.C. 20510-7020

Dear President Obama, Speaker Boehner, and Majority Leader Reid:

As National Commander of DAV and on behalf of our 1.2 million members, I am writing to express our rising outrage over the partisan politics preventing the federal government from fulfilling many basic obligations owed its citizenry, including sacred obligations to the men and women who have served and are serving to defend our nation.

The failure by all parties to reach agreement on fiscal year 2014 funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Defense (DOD) and other federal agencies that directly or indirectly support veterans, and the effects of the government shutdown, are increasingly causing serious harm to our nation’s heroes. The recent news about DOD’s apparent inability to provide mandatory death gratuities to the families of fallen Marines, or to even fly them to Dover Air Force Base for arrival ceremonies while the government shutdown continues, is a new low point and a violation of the trust we place in our elected officials. Sadly, the damage to our veterans will continue to get worse until all of you, together with a sufficient majority of the House and Senate, reach agreement to end this crisis.

Unless you put aside partisan politics for the good of the nation, the harm to our veterans and service members will get worse. If this stalemate continues for a couple more weeks, even mandatory obligations of the federal government, such as disability compensation and pension paid to veterans and their survivors, will be suspended. More than four million wounded, injured, ill and poor veterans rely on these payments; for some it is their primary or only source of income. It is simply unacceptable that there is even the threat of default on these payments.

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker and Mr. Majority Leader, the time for posturing and playing politics with veterans must come to an end. We call on all of you to reach agreement and expeditiously enact full fiscal year 2014 appropriations for all federal programs, services and benefits that directly or indirectly support America’s heroes, especially those wounded, injured and ill due to their service.

In addition, we call on you to enact legislation that extends advance appropriations to all VA discretionary and mandatory funding so that this sorry spectacle is never repeated. There is already advance appropriations legislation pending in both the House and Senate, and with your support, it could be quickly amended and enacted to prevent this harm from recurring in the future.

Almost 150 years ago, during perhaps the most challenging time of crisis our nation has ever faced, President Abraham Lincoln carefully and eloquently laid out the most sacred obligation of our nation: “…to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.” We now call on all of you to live up to those words.

Sincerely,

JOSEPH W. JOHNSTON

National Commander

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AMVETS

Statement for the Record submitted to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs:

Written statement of Diane M. Zumatto

AMVETS NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR

Provided to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs

United States House of Representatives

One hundred Thirteenth Congress, First session

Concerning

The Effect of Government Shutdown on VA Benefits & Services to Veterans

October 08, 2013

Introduction

Distinguished members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, it is my pleasure, on behalf of AMVETS, to offer this testimony outlining our questions and concerns related to the effects on the government shutdown on VA benefits and services to veterans.

I would like to begin today by commending the committee for all of its work on behalf of American veterans everywhere, especially its efforts to improve efficiencies by eliminating redundant and/or counterproductive programs and its unwavering commitment to all of the men and women whose job it is to protect and defend this country.

As the United States absorbs the aftereffects of more than a decade of continuous war and in the face of the planned draw-down of military personnel, the VA has been, and will continue to be, severely stressed for the foreseeable future. Nothing is more important for our veterans than adequately meeting their physical/mental health care needs and the accurate and efficient processing of their disability claims.

Thanks to improvements in battlefield medicine, swift triage, aeromedical evacuations and trauma surgery, more combat-wounded than ever before are surviving horrific wounds and will be applying for the benefits they were promised and earned on the battlefield. Your committee has a responsibility to ensure that the VA and our nation live up to the obligations imposed by the sacrifices of our veterans.

It is encouraging to acknowledge at this time that, despite the extraordinary sacrifices being asked of our men and women in uniform, the best and the brightest continue to step forward to answer the call of our nation in its time of need. I know that each of you is aware of, and appreciates, the numerous issues of importance facing our military members, veterans, retirees, families, and survivors.

Background

In the early 1980s, Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti pointed out that the Anti-Deficiency Act, which was originally enacted in 1884, required government agencies to close if their funding expired. This legislation is one of the major laws that gives Congress constitutional control over public funds. All funding lapses since the 80’s, have resulted in actual government shutdowns, although most of them shutdowns were of very limited duration. The most significant government shutdown to date came during the Clinton Administration and lasted 21 days in 1996.

As mentioned above, this current government shutdown is not a situation without precedence, even excluding the shutdown in 1996. Continuing with our historical look back, we find that since 1976, there have actually been 17 occasions when Congress failed to meet its annual funding deadline, six of which took place in the 1970s. Not all of these funding gaps actually lead to physical shutdowns.

Comments

The focus of the remainder of my remarks will pertain to the current situation we find ourselves in, the second government shutdown in 17 years and its effects on VA. And even though the underlying cause of these shutdowns, the inability of Congress and the president to agree on a spending bill, have a lot in common, there are also many differences. The result, not surprisingly, is that there is a lot of confusion, frustration and outright hostility being experienced, not only by American Veterans and federal employees, but also by ordinary citizens and even government decision-makers.

It goes without saying, that the government we have today is not the same as the one we had in 1996, thanks to technology and government overhauls, etc., so we cannot depend on previous experience as a guide to what may or may not happen. This unknown factor is creating undue fear and anxiety for the millions of American Veterans receiving a myriad of VA services and benefits and this is unacceptable to AMVETS and the larger veteran’s community.

Since anything that effects VA has cascading effects on all VA stakeholders, AMVETS is seeking clear guidance to share with our members as this shutdown continues. Currently, AMVETS National Service Officers and the AMVETS National Service Director’s office are being inundated with urgent requests for information from veterans all around the country who are concerned that their earned benefits may lapse as a result of the government shutdown. It must not be forgotten that for many veterans, especially the most vulnerable, their VA benefits may be their sole source of income. Additionally, veterans want to know:

• if they’ll be able to file new claims;

• if they’ll be able to file appeals;

• whether they’ll be able to check the status of a pending claim or appeal;

• what will happen to their G.I. Bill benefit payments;

• if NCA interments will continue in a timely manner;

• why they are being prevented from visiting monuments dedicated to their own service and sacrifice;

• what effect the shutdown will have on the backlog;

• will disabled veterans continue to receive their compensation or pension benefits;

• whether or not they’ll be able to meet with Service Officers in VA Regional Offices;

• how will the furloughing of 2,754 Office of Information Technology employees and contractors impact the development of important VA programs such as, VBMS, Data2Data (D2D), DBQ’s (Disability Benefit Questionnaires), and VBMS Calculators;

• what are the long-term ramifications of an extended shutdown; and

• for those with security clearances, there are concerns about possible negative effects during their next background check to renew their clearance if they are not paid in a timely manner.

Concerning meeting Secretary Shinseki’s goal of eliminating the backlog by 2015, back of the envelope calculations show that since the beginning of calendar year 2013, VA has been reducing the backlog by an average of 5,420 claims a week. With 98 weeks left until the end of FY15 if the VA is able to continue reducing the backlog at the same rate, VA will have successfully eliminated the backlog by 2015. Additional calculations show that the VA has a buffer of 112,000 claims if they continue reducing the backlog at the current rate; however, every week that the shutdown continues reduces the VA’s ability to meet the Secretary Shinseki’s goal by 2015.

Of major concern to AMVETS is the information coming out of VA indicating that it may not have enough money to pay disability claims and pension payments beyond the end of October, which would drastically affect some 3.6 million veterans.

Closing

I would like to conclude this testimony, by noting for the record, that AMVETS fully supports both Secretary Shinseki and Under Secretary for Benefits Hickey. Both of these leaders have struggled to fulfill their obligations to their fellow veterans thanks to the antiquated civil service system current in place. While we appreciate that this system, and its attendant protections, was originally established to rightly protect against patronage, worker exploitation, and political manipulation. But instead of protecting the best employees and creating an environment in which excellence can thrive, civil service protections now serve to lock the worst employees into place, making it virtually impossible for managers to fire poor performers. Neither VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, nor any future VA secretary, can be fully expected to fix a system in which they are unable to fire bad employees and reward good employees based on merit (instead of tenure). We need to give the VA's leadership the tools they need to fix the system.

This completes my statement at this time; thank you for the opportunity to offer our remarks on this critical issue.

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AmVets Demands Accountability as Government Shutdown Abandons Veterans Families

AMVETS National Executive Director Stewart Hickey

This government is out of control, the control of the American people. When we cannot take care of the families of our war dead, families who have sacrificed their children, husbands, wives, etc., on the altar of freedom and liberty then we have ceased to function as a republic. While the Department of Defense has money to call 350,000 employees back to work, and buy a $47,000 mechanical bull, they don’t have the funding for our fallen families. What does this say about our priorities as a nation; what does it say about the DoD? Are our children merely tools for the DoD to use, break and throw away when they no longer “work”? I am furious about how we as a nation are mistreating these families; this is a national disgrace unfolding before our very eyes. I believe that whomever made this decision should be removed from their position immediately. This is such a travesty that I am barely able to remain civil when I think about it. My three sons enlisted in the Marine Corps out of high school to fight the Global War on Terror. Every time I hear of an American killed in action I am saddened because I know it could as easily have been one of my sons; I feel for the families but to have this insult hurled at them by the very government their children were serving transgresses politics, decency, bureaucracy or any conceivable excuse. This is gross incompetence and negligence. Again, I call for accountability and the removal of those responsible for this national travesty. Those responsible obviously don’t have concern for our citizens who serve our nation in the armed forces.