About 5 million veterans may not receive benefits “they earned and rely on” on Nov. 1 because of the partial government shutdown, the Senate Budget Committee chairman warned Friday.
At a news conference to talk about ways to stop the partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she had been in contact with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to discuss the implications, and that veterans are among those who could be hurt if the fiscal standoff between the House and Senate continues.
Murray said benefits payments to about 5 million veterans may not be paid on Nov. 1. That includes disability compensation and benefits for about 700,000 student veterans using some version of the GI Bill.
Additionally, Murray said processing of the pending benefits claims of 725,000 veterans will be slowed because of reduced funding for the Veterans Affairs Department.
Even veterans not receiving VA benefits can be harmed, she said, noting that many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have used their federal hiring preference to land post-service jobs with the federal government, only to now be furloughed.
Murray and other Senate Democrats used the plight of veterans benefits as a reason to push the Republican-led House of Representatives to make concessions on a short-term spending bill to fully reopen the government.
However, House Republicans note they have already passed a solution to VA’s problem, with a bill that exempts veterans’ benefits programs from the shutdown. The Senate has refused to take up that bill, and the White House has threatened to veto the VA-only bill or similar House legislation that would cover only small parts of the federal government without a broader agreement.
At a Friday news conference, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, “This is not a damn game” when asked about strategy for restarting the government.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the lawmakers behind the Republican strategy to use the threat of a government shutdown to win concessions on other issues, particularly regarding the Affordable Care Act, said VA’s problems with benefits would be easily resolved if the Senate would pass a House resolution, similar to one passed Monday to protect military pay during a shutdown, that would provide VA enough money to keep paying benefits into the middle of December.
“House Republicans are handing out exemptions like Oprah Winfrey gives out cars,” Murray said.
The nation’s two largest veterans’ groups, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, are pushing Congress to pass a federal budget. But even their pressure has not yet broken a deadlock that appears certain to last through the weekend.
Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said “veterans are hurting while Washington plays games.”
“This is a stressful situation for people already stressed as they make the transition from combat to civilian life,” Rieckhoff said.
The shutdown needs to end “so we can receive all the support and benefits we have earned,” he said.