WASHINGTON — Troops on active duty overseas and at home won’t stand down if the federal budget impasse boils over into an actual shutdown of the government but, according to the Defense Department, other military operations deemed inessential to national security, or to the safety of life and property, might cease while politicians battle.

Likewise, veterans won’t lose essential medical services, but other functions of the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as benefits processing could stop until Democrats and Republicans can agree on how deeply to cut President Obama’s 2011 federal budget proposal.

To avert a shutdown, lawmakers must come to an agreement on how to fund government operations by March 4, when the current temporary budget resolution expires.

Though federal agencies are required to keep updated contingency plans in the event of a shutdown, few if any details are being released. But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi last week said, “Closing our government would mean our men and women in uniform wouldn’t receive their paychecks.”

Department of Defense officials would not directly address Pelosi’s claim, but said in a prepared statement troops would be shielded from the effects of the shutdown:

“We will do everything we have to do to continue to support the deployed troops,” the Defense Department said. “The Department must also continue many other operations for the safety of human life and protection of property. These types of activities will be ‘exempt’ from cessation. All other activities would need to be shut down in an orderly and deliberate fashion.”

Department officials did not respond to questions about which activities are nonessential in a shutdown. But in the two most recent federal shutdowns, which stretched over several weeks in 1995 and 1996, the military felt limited effects, including furloughs of civilian employees at facilities such as the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Department of Veterans Affairs officials likewise would not comment on what might cease, but referred to the White House statement on agency plans for maintaining essential services.

Veteran’s groups said medical care for veterans should be safe.

“Hospitals are definitely classified as essential services,” said Joe Davis, Veterans of Foreign Wars director of public affairs. “Beyond that, we don’t know.”

Processing of applications for medical, education and other benefits ground to a halt in the previous shutdowns, but Davis said the increasing automation of the benefits system could lessen the problem this time around. “Technically, the VA is light years from where it was 15 years ago.”

Adrian Atizado, assistant national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, said the group could itself be partly shuttered by a federal furlough.

“We are co-located with regional VA offices in many places and if those buildings close, obviously we can’t provide services either,” he said.

At the moment, neither Republicans nor Democrats seem willing to budge. House Republicans last week passed a budget bill that cuts $61 billion, dramatically slashing federal agencies and cutting funds for PBS, AmeriCorps and environmental cleanups, among other programs. Senate Democrats and the administration have declared the House bill unacceptable.

With a week to go until the budget deadline, politicians say they’re still looking for a compromise. Current military members and veterans are hoping they find it.

Said the VFW’s Davis: “A lot of people are basically looking at it and hoping and praying and saying to the federal government and Congress, ‘Don’t do this to me.’”

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