RENO, NV - JULY 23: Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars look on as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the 113th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center on July 23, 2012 in Reno, Nevada. President Obama addressed the 113th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars one day after visiting families of shooting victims in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY - The government shutdown is denying an array of financial benefits to families of troops killed in combat, training or by other causes in the military.
In addition, services to veterans were further curtailed Tuesday as the Department of Veterans Affairs exhausted some carryover funding and furloughed 7,000 workers who process compensation claims.
As a result, the VA cut off public access Tuesday to all 56 regional offices where veterans routinely walk in to file claims for compensation of combat- or other service-related wounds, injuries or illnesses.
Major veteran service organizations expressed outrage Tuesday that these facilities were temporarily shuttered because many of their employees use this office space to assist veterans in preparing what are often complex compensation claims.
"Because Congress and the White House refuse to speak to each other, our country's veterans are suffering more with each passing day of this extremely dangerous impasse," said Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, the largest veterans organization with 2.4 million members.
On Thursday, VFW National Commander William A. Thien released a statement regarding the shutdown, saying:
"Those who have borne the burden of battle are now endangered by the very political system they vowed to protect. If our veterans had acted similarly while in uniform, there is a good chance that we would now be flying a flag of a different color.
The benefits and entitlements now threatened to be delayed because of the political nonsense and gamesmanship occurring in Washington were earned by those who put country and duty first.
It's time for our elected officials to follow their example and do the same."
It remains unclear whether the VA will be sending out compensation checks on Nov. 1 to about 3.8 million veterans who rely on them, department spokeswoman Victoria Dillon says. While the VA is continuing to process compensation cases this month, funding for this will run out by the end of October if the shutdown continues, she says.
The VA pays out about $5 billion the first of each month to veterans in compensation and pension payments, Dillon says.
The VA said its success in reducing a backlog of compensation claims is now in jeopardy because it can no longer require employees to work overtime to cut through the delayed cases. The department began in May placing workers on a mandatory overtime schedule of at least 20 hours per month and succeeded in reducing the backlog by 30%.
Mandatory overtime was to continue through November, followed by voluntary overtime. But that ended with the shutdown, and the backlog of compensation cases pending longer than four months has held steady at nearly 420,000 cases, Dillon says.
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