Oct 04, 2013

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Four days into a federal government shutdown that has suspended or curtailed services to hundreds of thousands of veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs still cannot say if it backs legislation — first filed in February — that would provide the entire agency full funding a year in advance.

Though the identical House and Senate bills would not have guaranteed funding for all VA services for 2014 even it had passed, backers said the current shutdown is evidence the measure is needed.

“It wouldn’t have stopped [this] but if it was the law of the land … we would not be in this position [in the future],” a Senate staffer familiar with the legislation told Military.com.

But a VA spokeswoman said the department is not ready to take a view one way or the other on the proposal because the administration first needs to look at the impact across the entire government.

“Only in the context of such a broad review could the administration offer an opinion on making such a change for the VA,” spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said. “We cannot therefore offer a position … at this time.”

On Tuesday, the House passed the Honoring our Promise to America’s Veterans Act, which would ensure veterans receive VA disability compensation, pension, GI Bill and other benefits should the shutdown last an extended period. It’s unclear if it will pass in the Senate.

House lawmakers appeared taken aback in July when Acting Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning Robert Snyder made the same case.

“I am not saying VA is against it,” he said. “I’m saying we don’t have a position right now.”

House Bill 813 and Senate 932 called for discretionary spending accounts — those used for things like disability claims processing, VA construction, and veterans’ call centers — to be funded a year in advance. First filed by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, it is modeled after legislation passed in 2009 that enabled full funding of all VA healthcare programs a year in advance.

It is for that reason all VA medical centers and healthcare operations are up and running regardless of the shutdown. The 2014 appropriations were included in the FY 2013 budget.

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Government Shutdown FAQ for Veterans

Posted: 09/30/2013 6:38 pm

Last Updated: 17:30 October 4th with new information regarding Guard and Reserve Drill and the GI Bill living stipend–

At IAVA we’ve 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.

Why was my GI 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.

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