Last Updated: 11:00 October 9th with new information regarding VA furloughs and DoD death benefits
At IAVA we've heard from a number of veterans concerned about the impact of a possible government shutdown. The following information is based on the latest guidance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). We will update as new information becomes available.
The federal government has officially shut down, leaving just enough resources to cover the essential services of the government. While veterans may be more protected than other constituencies, a government shutdown does not bode well for top priorities within the veterans' community.
What if I have a doctor's appointment or need to go to the VA hospital during the shutdown?
Hospitals should be running normally, or close to normal. VA health care is protected. In 2009, Congress passed a law to fund the VA one year in advance. This allows the VA health care to plan ahead and ensures that VA health care is funded for an additional year beyond the government shut down. All VA medical appointment and prescription drug phone lines will be active during the shutdown. The Veterans Crisis Line will also be protected from a shutdown.
Advance funding for VA health care was the centerpiece of IAVA's Storm the Hill efforts in 2009, and the current shutdown debate shows how critical our efforts were. That is why IAVA supports the Congressional bill HR. 813 / S. 932 to extend advanced funding to the whole VA and avoid any problems with health care and benefits in the future.
What about my VA disability, pension, or GI Bill? Will I still get those?
All payments for the month of October are already out. VA benefits are protected and should go out during a shutdown. However, the VA recently announced that if the shutdown lasts longer than 2-3 weeks, the VA might not have enough cash on hand to pay benefits in November.
Does that mean that I won't get my benefits in November?
Possibly. The VA has not given any specifics on what will happen if the shutdown continues for the next few weeks, and they run out of cash on hand. IAVA will keep pushing for more information and get it to you as soon as possible.
Why was my GI payment less than the full amount?
Many of the education calls IAVA is receiving concern the Monthly Living Allowance. Though payments have been approved for October, many veterans and family members are concerned about the amounts of their checks this month. A key reason for the smaller payments, particularly at the beginning of a new semester is that all benefits are prorated for a student's rate of pursuit or number of classes relative to what is considered full-time for that institution. So part-time students will have their living allowance prorated based on how many classes they are taking. For example, if a student who is taking 7 credits at a school that considers 12 credits full time, that student will receive 60% of the normal living allowance rate. In order to receive any percentage of the allowance, students must be enrolled in at least 1 credit hour above half time, and must not currently be on active duty orders. See what percentage of benefits you should receive by visiting here.
I'm still waiting for the VA to process my claim. How will that be affected?
If you filed a claim before the shutdown, the VA will continue to process it, but expect there to be some delay. While the VA employees that are working on your claim are protected from the shutdown, many of the information sources that they use to develop your claim are not. This may slow the process down.
I was just about to file a claim? Should I wait?
No, go ahead and file but be aware that the VA won't be processing any new claims during the shutdown. However, you should still file to protect your effective date. To reduce any confusion or to ensure that the VA doesn't lose anything during the uncertainty of the shutdown, we recommend that you file your claim through a National Service Officer from the Disabled American Veterans. They can help guide you through the process and ensure that the VA is on top of it. You can locate a local service officer here.
New Post 9/11 GI Bill claims for next semester will also likely be delayed if the shutdown goes longer than a few weeks since they will not be processing new claims during a shutdown. The VA's education hotline will be shut off during a shutdown as well. If you are experiencing problems with your GI Bill, you can visit www.NewGIBIll.org for assistance.
I've appealed my VA disability claim. Does this mean that I'll be waiting longer?
Yes. All work on appeals will be halted during the shutdown.
Do furloughs at VA mean that the VA will come grinding to a halt?
No. Health Care is protected thanks to advance funding and most benefits processors are considered essential and will continue to work. However, as the shutdown continues more and more VA employees may be furloughed. Starting, October 8, over 7,000 VBA employees and 2,754 Office of Info Tech (OIT) employees will be furloughed. This will suspend a number of services, including the Education Call Center and personal interviews and hearings at regional offices. More VA vocational services and proactive outreach initiatives will close. Additionally, this means that many internal VA support services will slow or halt and this will have an effect on how fast the VA can work. For example, as the VA furloughs IT staff, their ability to respond to bugs it the new digital claims process will degrade. This may continue to slow claims processing. The VA has a plan on how a protracted shutdown will effect staffing.
I'm currently serving in the military. Will I still get paid?
Yes. Just before the shutdown, the President signed the bill passed by Congress that would ensure that the military continues to get paid during the shutdown.
What about on base services? How will those be affected?
Military hospitals and clinics should remain open. However, expect many MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) and community services (like commissaries) to be either closed or limiting operations. You can get a good overview here. Your chain of command will have detailed information about what is happening on your local base.
DoD education benefits are also being affected. No new requests for Tuition Assistance (TA) or MyCAA will be approved for classes on or after October 1st. If you were already approved for benefit and have started class before the shutdown, the DoD will continue to pay benefits. We expect TA and MyCAA to resume once the shutdown ends.
I'm in the National Guard or Reserves. What does this mean for my drill?
Your drill may be canceled. Service members will only be paid if they attend drill. All information on your drill's status will come from your chain of command.
I'm in the National Guard or Reserves and I have orders coming up. Do I go or is it canceled?
Not necessarily. Orders after the shutdown (October 1) may still be valid (orders like AT, TDY, ADT, and ADOS). However, all service members should check with their chain of command about the status of your orders as soon as possible. Your command may have new or different directives.
I've heard that during the shutdown, the DoD won't pay death benefits. Is that true?
Families of the fallen will receive the $100,000 death gratuity benefit as well as travel expenses for the bereaved who wish to attend their loved one's reception at Dover or attend a funeral. Previously the DoD was not able to pay these benefits so Congress passed legislation authorizing DoD to release the funds. The President immediately signed the bill and benefits are now restored. During the gap where benefits were not paid,a private foundation, the Fisher House Foundation, stepped up to cover death benefits for the families of the fallen. SGLI should not be affected by the government shutdown, but takes at least a week to get turned on. But, burials at a national cemetery run by the DoD may also be delayed.
A private foundation, the Fisher House Foundation, has graciously come forward to offer the families of those killed in action an advance grant and all related travel expenses.
Shutdown? I'm deployed to Afghanistan right now. What does this mean?
DoD has stated that combat operations will continue as planned. Be safe and keep driving on. Your chain of command will have any details you need to know and your unit's FRG (Family Readiness Group) should be able to pass information to your families back home.
What about this whole debt ceiling thing? How will that work?
If America hits the debt ceiling and defaults on our existing bills, virtually all cash on hand will have to be diverted to paying the interest on the debt. This may halt virtually all pay and benefits and further shut down the government. Since the US has never defaulted before, there is not a lot of clarity on what will happen. IAVA will keep pushing for more information and update you as soon as we can.
How can IAVA help?
As Congress remains gridlocked and plays games with the budget, there remains a great deal of confusion and uncertainty for veterans.
IAVA's case managers are trained to help veterans navigate all types of transition issues. If the government shutdown affects your benefits, livelihood, or wellbeing and you need support, contact us at 855-91-RAPID (72743). We can get you connected to resources and help minimize the disruption to your life.