Congress is missing its chance to help America's veterans
The House of Representatives failed to pass a bill yesterday that would have guaranteed payments of benefits to America's veterans beyond this month as a partial shutdown of the federal government continues.
The Honoring Our Promise to America's Veterans Act, which failed by a 264-164 vote, also would have provided funding to the Veterans Benefits Administration so that processors could continue to work overtime to reduce the massive backlog of undecided claims.
"Yesterday, Congress had a chance to put America's veterans before politics and failed," said Daniel M. Dellinger, national commander of The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization. "Because of its inability to pass legislation for necessary VA funding, Congress is jeopardizing veterans and their families who won't be receiving their benefits payments next month if the government shutdown continues.
"Veterans and their families should be protected from this impasse and should not be made pawns in the budget debate."
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the overtime put in by claims processors over the past six months has helped to reduce the backlog by about 190,000 claims. Because of the government shutdown, VA said in a statement, "this clear progress for veterans and their families is at risk without immediate action by Congress to make fiscal year 2014 funding available by passing a clean (continuing resolution) to reopen the government."
Dellinger said if VA is forced to cancel overtime for its claims processors, "hard-fought progress in the battle to reduce the backlog of undecided benefits claims will be deliberately forfeited. Years of hard work and dedication have finally achieved a reduction in the backlog.
"The withdrawal of VA’s commitment to put in the overtime to solve the problem stands to rebuild the backlog, leaving thousands of veterans and their families in limbo. Veterans and their families are not responsible for this federal-spending conflict. They should not be victimized by it."
VA claims processors have been working a minimum of 20 hours' overtime per month, and were scheduled to continue that workload through mid-November, when working overtime would then become voluntary through the end of this year.
While overtime claims processing and benefits payments to veterans are continuing for now, VA said in the event of a prolonged government shutdown, "claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted.”
Although Congress has yet to address the looming VA default in benefits payments, it has taken action to protect the paychecks of America's servicemembers. A bill signed into law by President Obama on Sept. 30 will keep paychecks flowing to members of the military and many Department of Defense civilian workers, despite the government shutdown.
The Pay Our Military Act, which passed the House and Senate without opposition Monday and was signed into law, protects military paychecks and the jobs of many civilian employees of the Defense Department. The American Legion called for such protections.