VA: Most employees to stay on, but shutdown would halt some services
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 27, 2013
WASHINGTON — More than 95 percent of Veterans Affairs employees would not be furloughed if a government shutdown happens, but the move could still halt some key services for veterans.
In series of memos Friday, VA officials said that only about 14,000 of the department’s 332,000-plus employees would be sent home in the event of a shutdown. More than half of those would come from the Veterans Benefits Administration, which could have an effect on the department’s efforts to reduce the claims backlog.
Previous media reports had put the number of potential furloughs for the department at more than 60,000, but VA officials said advanced appropriations legislation passed by Congress in 2009 will allow thousands of workers to stay on the job. The advanced funds mean about $52 billion of the VA's requested fiscal 2014 budget will be available to the department on Oct. 1, even without a new budget deal.
In addition, workers needed for “the protection of life and property” will be required to stay on the job. That covers a long list of health and crisis prevention employees within the agency.
In a statement, VA officials said that both the White House and Secretary Eric Shinseki “believe that a lapse in appropriations should not occur” but “prudent management requires that the government plan for the possibility.”
The Departments suicide hot line, mental health care, surgical care, nursing home services and veterans centers would see no disruption if a shutdown occurs.
But the VA education call center would be suspended, some web services would be disrupted, and burials at national cemeteries would be slowed.
The Board of Veterans Appeals would also be shut down, leaving veterans with claims under review waiting even longer for a decision. Eighty-three of Shinseki’s 92-person staff would also be furloughed.
A full list of services impacted is available in the VA’s new shutdown field guide.
Nationwide, about 800,000 federal workers could be furloughed if Congress can’t agree on a new plan to continue government operations past Oct. 1.