Paralyzed Veterans of America is urging lawmakers and the President to swiftly come to a solution on the now 16-day government shutdown, particularly as more than 435,000 veterans are forced to wait even longer for their disability claims applications to be dealt with.
Gillums appeared on CNN to talk about the government shutdown's affect on veterans
The government shutdown that took place on Oct. 1, 2013, has forced the Department of Veterans Affairs regional offices to close their doors to hundreds of thousands of veterans, dependents and survivors. The VA also has stopped paying overtime to processers who had been working to reduce the backlog of more than 435,000 claims, which is likely to reverse the progress made and cause the backlog to swell again. Veterans who have waited months or even years to have their appeals heard before a veteran law judge also face continued irresolution as their scheduled hearings had been canceled.
“Unlike the Y2K Millennium bug of 2000 that was supposed to be the electronic equivalent of the El Nino, or the more recent sequestration this year that would push the economy over a fiscal cliff, the government shutdown had the immediate, tangible impact that most feared,” said Sherman Gillums, associate director of veterans benefits at Paralyzed Veterans of America.
It remains unclear what impact the government shutdown will have on compensation and pension benefits, which many Paralyzed Veterans’ members rely on to pay for life-critical expenses such as attendant care and non-VA prescriptions.
If the government shutdown continues into late October, more than 3.8 million veterans will forgo disability compensation next month, while 315,000 veterans and 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents will also see pension payments stopped.
“The uncertainty of whether the payments will stop contributes to anxieties linked to imminent Morton’s Fork scenarios, where members will have to choose between paying rent, buying food, keeping the lights on, or not paying a caregiver,” Gillums said.
Despite the grim outlook for veterans in light of the government shutdown, Paralyzed Veterans of America has been working tirelessly to face the challenge head on. The Veterans Benefits Department took early action by addressing the misinformation that swirled as the shutdown became more inevitable, and National Service Offices and the National Office continue to report on any new developments or impacts of the shutdown on Veterans Benefits Department operations.
And while clients are not allowed to enter VA regional offices during the shutdown, Paralyzed Veterans national service offices continue to remain available by phone and email to provide assistance.
Chris Jenkins, a national service officer in Pittsburgh, has not allowed the VA’s closed doors to shutter his resolve to help our nation’s disabled veterans. Since the shutdown began, Jenkins has met with several clients on the sidewalk outside the VA regional office to complete forms and provide his expert assistance.
“Paralyzed Veterans’ service officers nationwide will continue to work pension, compensation and education as long as VA continues to process them,” Gillums said. “However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted.”
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Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.