VA Director Reviews Impact of Gov’t Shutdown on Veterans Services

CLEARFIELD – At yesterday’s regular meeting of the Clearfield County Commissioners, Veterans Affairs Director Betina Nicklas reviewed how the government shutdown has impacted the programs and services offered to veterans.

Over the last week, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) relied upon carryover funding to continue during its lapse in appropriations. As of the close of business Monday, all of the VBA’s carryover funding was exhausted, said Nicklas.

Starting yesterday she said more than 7,000 VBA employees were placed into furlough status. She said because of these furloughs, a number of services will be suspended, including: the Education Call Center; personal interviews and hearings at regional offices; educational and vocational counseling; outreach activities and programs, including those conducted at military facilities; and VetSuccess on campus.

The shutdown of public access to VBA facilities, she said, impacts the Veterans Service Organizations with office space in VBA facilities. As a result, she said public access to these VSOs is suspended at this time.

In addition, Nicklas said 2,754 Office of Information Technology (OIT) employees were furloughed Monday, as its carryover balance was exhausted. She said all development of VA software will cease, including working on the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), which is important to reducing the backlog of disability claims.

Consistent with applicable law, VA identified functions and services will continue during the lapse of appropriations. These include claim processing actions necessary to the payment of compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits and will continue until the VA’s remaining mandatory funds are exhausted, which is projected to occur in late October, said Nicklas.

Further, she said claims processors will be on duty during their normal workday only. Although, prior to the lapse in appropriations, the VA extended mandatory overtime until Nov. 16, it has been ceased. She said the VBA can continue to employee staff in its compensation and pension call centers, and individual veterans can still initiate claims or check their claim’s status by calling 1-800-827-1000.

She said the county utilizes veterans organizations based out of Pittsburgh to file claims. Only one, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, has had furloughs. All others utilized by the county, she said, are state-funded; however, because they follow federal procedures, where employees have been furloughed, that has stopped the claims process.

Nicklas said veterans can still initiate the claims process but shouldn’t expect any immediate action. She said the veterans will still get the date stamp for the month that their claim was filed. Nicklas said she’s available to provide assistance to any veteran with questions and can be reached by phone at 814-765-4611 or at her office at 212 E. Locust St., Suite 104, Clearfield.

For more information, please view the Veterans Field Guide for the Government Shutdown.

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