Although programs for military veterans were mostly protected from the financial effects of this month’s 16-day government shutdown, many are already anxious about what the next deadline may bring.
Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, spoke with veterans and those working with veterans’ services on Sunday about the recent shutdown. Although he said he wasn’t optimistic Congress could pass any long-term budget agreements before the next deadline on Jan. 15, 2014, he hopes they can at least avoid another shutdown.
“It’ll be absolutely horrible to go through this again,” said Loebsack, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. “And I’m going to make sure I do everything to prevent this from happening again.”
Allen Roberts, UI military and veteran educational specialist, said many students felt a sense of helplessness as certain financial assistance was delayed and furloughed workers meant no one could respond to questions.
“It really put it in the forefront of their minds like, holy crap, this does really effect us and there’s nothing we can do,” Roberts, an air force veteran, told Loebsack.
UI officials established an emergency short-term loan plan for students, including veterans, who receive government checks incase the shutdown extended into November.
Federal measures were put in place for veterans’ healthcare during shutdown as previous legislation ensured the Department Veteran Affairs’ budget was funded for an additional year beyond the government shutdown.
However, Loebsack said despite financial security, furloughs caused setbacks in tackling the already thousands of backlogged claims.
“While it didn’t effect the actual care at the VA Center, it did halt progress being made on the backlog of cases,” he said. “There were improvements over time and this stopped the improvements and set it back some.”
Barry Sharp, director of the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, said the shutdown had a minimal impact on the hospital, as none of their healthcare employees were furloughed.
There were 15 information technology employees at the hospital who were furloughed and 20 people who had to work without pay. Patrick Kearns, president of the local chapter of the American Federal of Government Employees union and VA hospital nurse, said those workers should receive their paychecks by Nov. 1.
Sharp said these employees were impacted because they are paid under appropriations separate from the healthcare system.
He said the increase in backlogged claims would slightly impact the VA hospital. Veterans Benefits Administration’s regional offices in Des Moines and Chicago process these claims refer those who apply for disability benefits to the VA hospital for screenings and exams. Sharp said there were extensive furloughs at these two offices, which will cause delays in referrals.
“This just delays the processing of that not just for two weeks but also all the things that kept coming through the door,” Kearns said.