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Shutdown to further slow veterans disability claims

Thousands of veterans who have been waiting for months and years to get compensated for their disability claims might have to wait even longer because of Tuesday’s federal government shutdown.

Local officials said they anticipate veterans who have filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs will experience further delays. Veterans who have filed an appeal over a claim with the department won’t get any response from the agency until the federal government is open for business again.

“The claims processing is going to come to a screeching halt,” Warren County Veteran Services Director Rodney Eversole said Tuesday. “There’s such a log jam (already), it’s just going to make it a bigger log jam. It’s just disheartening. It makes veterans want to give up on accessing these benefits.”

Eversole estimates his office helps between four and five veterans every day file a claim with the Department of Veterans.

A motion from House Republicans late Tuesday to pass legislation to keep the Department of Veterans Affairs up and running failed to pass.

As of Monday, more than 670,000 claims were awaiting approval from regional offices across the country. The average claim takes 378 days to get approval from the agency, according to a report from the Department of Veteran Services. Another 255,000 appeals from veterans across the U.S. were working their way through the system.

Claims processors had been working overtime this year to diminish thousands of backlogged claims that had been sitting with the agency for more than two years, said Butler County Veterans Service Director Curt McPherson. But those workers won’t be allowed to go into overtime during the shutdown, which means old claims are likely to pile up once again. The Cleveland regional office was in the midst of handling more than 22,000 claims Monday and another 9,480 appeals.

“The progress on two-year claims will be slowed,” McPherson said. “We don’t know how long the shutdown is going to be. The cases are basically just going to sit there.”

McPherson said burials at national cemeteries will also slow down during the shutdown.

And, if Congress’ budget battle wages on for a few more weeks, the department might be unable to pay out benefits to veterans, according to a government shutdown implementation plan on the agency’s website.

“Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October,” the statement reads. “However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted.”

If the shutdown runs on for months, veterans who don’t get their checks could seek financial help at their county veteran service commissions, said Will Davis, the state adjutant for the Ohio Disabled American Veterans.

“Some of our people rely on the VA quite heavily because of their wounds from the war,” Davis said. “For those who live paycheck to paycheck, it could create a devastating situation.”

State officials declined to comment on the shutdown but said in a memo issued Tuesday that the Ohio Department of Veterans Services and county veteran commissions will not be affected by the shutdown.

All Veterans Affairs medical centers, including ones located in Cincinnati, Dayton and Middletown will remain open and fully operational during the shutdown, according to the facilities websites. Medical appointments with the facilities will not be impacted.

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