Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Wednesday told members of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs that if the government shutdown persists, the VA won't be able to make benefits payments to veterans next month. Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report for NY1.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki reminded the House committee members Wednesday that actions have consequences and that the consequences of the government shutdown are hitting veterans hard.
"Today, we're in the 13th year of the war in Afghanistan, providing care and benefits to veterans of that war and the war in Iraq as well. Members of this latest generation of veterans are enrolling in VA at a higher rate than ever before," Shinseki said.
That high enrollment contributed to a backlog of veterans' disability and pensions claims, something the VA has been working to fix. But Shinseki said that the worker furloughs connected to the shutdown have stalled their progress.
"We've lost ground we fought hard to take," Shinseki said. "Roughly 1,400 veterans a day are now not receiving decisions on their disability compensation claims."
Shinseki also told committee members that if the shutdown continues into late October, the VA won't have enough money to make benefits payments to millions of veterans and eligible family members next month.
"Tuition and stipends for over 500,000 veterans' service members and eligible family members in education programs will also stop," Shinseki said.
Though Republicans and Democrats are unable to agree on a deal to fund the government, both sides agree that veterans deserve better. Republicans are quick to point to their efforts to fund the Veterans Administration, although it's through a piecemeal funding strategy that Democrats reject.
"Republicans, we've taken care of the veterans. We've passed legislation to keep the memorials open, for VA benefits and so forth. Again, Harry Reid will not take it up. So the veterans are being affected from the lack of leadership over in the Senate from Harry Reid," said Rep. Roger Williams of Texas.
"The House of Representatives ought to be having a vote on a simple, straight-forward funding resolution that enables all of our veterans to be paid what they are owed, for their claims to be processed," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
There's still no sign of a compromise, though.