Officials were outraged Tuesday that the partial government shutdown has prompted the national veterans administration to furlough 7,000 workers.
As a result, benefits such as vocational and educational counseling, outreach activities and upgrading an electronic benefits management system will be suspended until the federal shutdown ends.
At the same time, veterans are still receiving their pension, employment, and other benefits, but U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal is concerned that money might dry up if the shutdown continues through the end of the month.
“This self-inflicted, unnecessary shutdown is causing real harm to real people, including countless veterans who risked their lives in service to our country,’’ Blumenthal said in a statement. “In continuing this reckless shutdown, the House GOP is turning its back on brave men and women who have already been subjected to unconscionable delays in receiving critical, hard-earned benefits. This important work should be expedited and prioritized, not held hostage or used as a bargaining chip in disingenuous piecemeal proposals. I am calling on Speaker of the House John Boehner to let the House vote on a clean continuing resolution and to reopen the entire government immediately.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced that the furloughs were implemented Tuesday under the department’s contingency plan, adding that public access to all of the agency’s regional offices would be suspended because of the shutdown. Moreover, more than 2,700 computer employees in the Office of Information Technology were furloughed due to a lack of funds – prompting a work stoppage on developing the computer software that will be needed to slice the growing backlog in claims for disability.
Linda Schwartz, Connecticut’s commissioner of veterans affairs, said her office is investigating how much the layoffs will affect veterans in Connecticut. She said the shutdown is likely to affect an area where there is already a backlog – veterans disability claims.
“The regional office, which handles all of the claims for disability and for educational benefits …. they are furloughed,’’ Schwartz told The Courant’s Rick Green.
But Schwartz noted that checks should be “in the mail” for veterans who are awaiting disability or educational benefits.
“Earlier today, there was a report that if you were using the GI Bill your payments were in jeopardy,’’ Schwartz said. “We have been told they were still working in Washington on this.”
“There is a lot of misinformation going on. It is scaring people who depend on the VA for their checks,’’ she said. “As this progresses, it is going to become more and more uncertain. The regional office is in the Newington VA building. The healthcare part is still operational. It’s the benefits part that isn’t.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is concerned about the situation with veterans, as well as others who are being affected around the state due to a slowdown in federal funding.
“What’s going on in Washington is absolutely crazy, and it’s dangerous and it’s affecting people’s lives,’’ Malloy said. “It’s starting to affect the elderly. We’re worrried about the distribution of veterans benefits and the processing of their information. … We’re worried about whether we’ll have seats open for children in the schools that they attend’’ regarding pre-school funding in federal programs like Head Start.
“I think the tyranny of the minority has got to end,’’ Malloy said, referring to U.S. House Republicans. “The idea that one party gets to literally hold its breath and turn blue or threaten to shoot its own dog unless it gets what it wants is unacceptable in our democracy.’’
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Cheshire Democrat, said Tuesday that the gridlock in Washington has lasted long enough.
“The shutdown must end. I have repeatedly called for both parties in Washington to come together in honest negotiations for a fiscally-responsible, commonsense budget,” Esty said. “But the federal government does not have to be shutdown, our veterans do not have to go without benefits, our seniors don’t need their Social Security services reduced, federal workers do not need to go without pay, Head Start centers do not need to have their doors closed, children do not have to go without life-saving cures. These are people’s lives, not bargaining chips. Reopen the government, because the well-being of Connecticut families and businesses and the full faith and credit of our nation should not be held hostage to political ideology.”