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Government shutdown won’t affect health care or most benefits for veterans, VA says

The Department of Veterans Affairs has released guidance on what functions will continue and which will be suspended in a government shutdown that could occur beginning Saturday at midnight.
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The Department of Veterans Affairs has released guidance on what functions will continue and which will be suspended in a government shutdown that could occur beginning Saturday at midnight.

WASHINGTON — Veterans who rely on government health care and other assistance can continue to see their doctors and receive education and pension benefits despite a possible, and likely imminent, partial shutdown that will temporarily cease many federal operations.

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday released guidance on what functions will continue and not continue if Congress fails to solve a funding lapse that is set to begin Saturday at midnight.

Services that veterans and families can expect to continue include:

Medical care and critical services under the Veterans Health Administration. Education benefit claims processing and payments. Insurance processing and loan guaranty programs under the Veterans Benefits Administration. Payment processing for the Veteran Readiness and Employment program. Compensation and pension processing and payments. Hearings and decisions on benefits cases issued by the Board of Veterans Appeals. National benefits call center services (except for education). Burials. These services are funded in advance or under multi-year allocations. Any carryover balances from prior years will continue to sustain operations “until those account balances are depleted,” according to the document.

Ninety-seven percent of VA employees are either funded in advance or “required to perform excepted functions during a shutdown.” Of the department’s over 450,000 employees, 15,620 will be furloughed should a shutdown occur.

Several activities under the PACT Act — a 2022 law to extend benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxins — were funded in advance, including under the recent Fiscal Responsibility Act.

Veterans will still be able to contact the VA, including at the 1-800-MyVA411 line, to inquire about coverage for chronic illness and disease after being exposed to open burn pits, Agent Orange, radiation and other environmental hazards.

VA activities that will cease under a shutdown include:

Education call center, otherwise known as the GI Bill hotline. Native American Veterans Direct Loan program. Vendee direct loans. Career outreach including the Veteran Readiness and Employment, and Personalized Career Planning and Guidance programs. Numerous public-facing activities including digital and traditional veteran outreach, communications with community and faith-based partners, and outreach to tribal governments, Pacific Islanders, and rural veterans. Permanent headstone and marker installations at veterans’ cemeteries.

No deal in sight for 2024

House Republicans have not yet been able to agree on funding the government for the next fiscal year, which begins Sunday.

Any VA activities that do not have advanced allocations, and therefore must be funded under appropriations for 2024, will stop until Congress approves an agreement.

“We’re working very diligently in preparation for a lapse in funding,” the department’s Secretary Denis McDonough said during a press briefing Friday.

“… However, (during a shutdown) we would not be able to conduct outreach to veterans; our public-facing regional offices would be closed; and many regular operations like career counseling, transition assistance, and cemetery grounds maintenance would not be available,” he later continued.

“So, this is why I’ve been saying that we need a full-year appropriation — especially at a time when we’re providing more care and more benefits to more veterans than ever before — and that’s why we’ve been so supportive of the bipartisan budget agreement that was struck several months ago,” McDonough said, referring to the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

The act, which averted a government default on its debts, outlined a funding agreement between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican.

McCarthy, who is working with a slim majority, has not been able to unify far-right party members to adhere to the agreed-upon terms.

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.