Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki warned Congress today that unless the government shutdown ends, his department will be unable to send out 5.18 million checks on Nov. 1. That's about $6 billion in payments that won't be able to go out because there won't be enough funds to send out the checks to beneficiaries.
"I will not be able to pay all these beneficiaries," Shinseki told the House Veterans Affairs Committee. And if the shutdown continues on Nov. 1, "I will not be sending checks out."
If the shutdown continues through late October, 3.8 million veterans will not receive disability checks, including thousands rated as 100 percent disabled, according to Shinseki's written testimony.
Payments would also stop for more than 364,000 survivors and more than 1,200 children with birth defects who receive special benefits, according to his testimony. Pension payments would also cease for almost 315,000 veterans and more than 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents.
Shinseki also said that the efforts to eliminate the backlog in applications for VA benefits "has stalled" and that the backlog is once again increasing.
The retired four-star Army general noted that the previous government shutdown in 1996 occurred during a period of relative peace, but that the past decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to a greater need for the VA.
"They are enrolling in VA care at higher rates than previous generations of veterans," said Shinseki. He warned: "They, along with the veterans of every preceding generation, will be harmed if the shutdown continues."
Veterans Affairs medical centers remain open during the shutdown as they receive funding one year in advance. However, access to 56 VA regional offices was suspended Tuesday because of a lack of funding.
According to Shinseki, 7,800 VA employees have been placed on furlough, about half of them veterans. He expects their numbers to increase as the shutdown drags on.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said he was not satisfied with the way the Obama administration had planned for the shutdown and its effects on veterans. He complained that it had been difficult to get information from the VA about what programs would be affected by the shutdown.
"We've had some difficulty in the last couple of weeks getting good information about VA's contingency plan and the effects a lapse in appropriation would have on veterans, " Miller said.
Shinseki said, "While VA planned for an orderly shutdown in the event of a lapse in appropriations, a government shutdown of this scale is a new responsibility with unprecedented legal and programmatic questions."
Shinseki urged Congress to pass a full funding bill for his agency and not piecemeal funding bills. "What's best for all veterans is a full budget," Shinseki said.