The shutdown has stretched out for a full week, and as funding runs out, agencies are forced to update their contingency plans.
Tuesday morning, the Veterans Benefits Administration put more than 7,000 workers on furlough status and all public access to VBA regional offices was officially suspended due to lack of funds.
Monday, more than 2,700 employees from VA’s Office of Information and Technology were furloughed. In addition, all development of VA software will stop, including the work on the Veterans Benefits Management System, which has been critical in reducing the disability claim backlog.
VA said it won’t be able to make significant progress on the backlog because it can’t pay overtime for claims processors. It was overtime that reduced the disability claims backlog by more than 190,000 claims over the past six months.
Struggling with the massive backlog, VA mandated a minimum of 20 hours of overtime per month until Nov. 16 — since March 2013, the disability claims backlog reduced by about 30 percent.
“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,” VA said in a statement.
During the shutdown, the disability claims backlog has grown even more. On Oct. 30, the backlog was at 418,500 claims. The Monday morning workload report this week showed the backlog at 418,700, an increase of 200 cases in one week.
Conversely, the week prior to the government shutdown, the backlog decreased by approximately 18,000 in seven days.
All VA medical centers and clinics will continue to remain fully operational and provide health care services to veterans throughout the shutdown. The branch of VA that operates its medical centers has advance appropriations for fiscal year 2014.
According to VA’s updated shutdown field guide, VBA’s regional offices public contact services will not be available. In addition, VBA’s appeal and remands processing is suspended, and neither Board of Veterans Appeals field hearings nor decisions on appeals or motions will be made by the board.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, expressed outraged at the treatment of VA throughout the shutdown and said the ball is now in the Senate’s court. He said the House has passed two bills, both of which would end the VA furloughs and restore them back to full operating capacity despite a government shutdown.
“VA employees should be worrying about VA’s mission of service to veterans, not managing an agency on spare change remaining from last year, and it’s a shame that Washington’s dysfunction has led to the furloughs of thousands of dedicated VA employees and may jeopardize benefits for some veterans,” he said in a release.
Out of VA’s 332,025 employees, nearly 300,000 are exempt from the shutdown.