Shutdown jeopardizes long-term veteran payments

For 15 years, retired Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Lamb served in Vietnam, Egypt and Jordan under the Army motto, “This we’ll defend.”

But lately, the Augusta veteran is feeling ashamed of the nation he once swore to protect.

Because of an ongoing dispute between Congress and President Obama, Lamb is among 4.1 million veterans who will not receive more than $6 billion in disability compensation, pension, education and rehabilitation payments next month if the partial government shutdown continues into late October, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said.

While Augusta’s Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center remains open during the budget impasse, spokesman Pete Scovill said a prolonged shutdown will effect all veterans, including the 66,000 living in the 13 Georgia and South Carolina counties in the surrounding metropolitan area.

“It is not fair how the American people and its heroes are being treated,” Lamb said Monday as he and his brother-in-law, Danny Bishop, attended appointments at the Norwood Medical Center in downtown Augusta.

Bishop, a retired Marine Corps first sergeant who served from 1971 to 1995 in various Middle Eastern conflicts, receives 30 percent disability for a heart condition that landed him in a wheelchair.

Lamb, who served from 1969 to 1984, suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, but only receives pension payments.

The two said they barely have enough to pay for health and living expenses.

“That’s going to be starvation,” Lamb said of losing pension and disability benefits.

Speaking before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs last week, Shinseki said so far the government shutdown has slowed disability claims production by an average of 1,400 cases per day and as a result, stalled the department’s efforts to reduce the backlog of claims pending for longer than 125 days.

“In some areas, like health care delivery, there are fewer adverse effects. In others, such as reducing the claims backlog, we have already seen a negative impact,” Shinseki said.

The House passed legislation that would provide veterans disability, pension and other benefits in the event of a prolonged shutdown. But the White House has urged lawmakers not to take a piecemeal approach to continuing government services.

Shinseki agreed, saying it’s not the best solution for veterans, noting that even if the VA were fully funded, some services to veterans would suffer.

Veterans groups have largely avoided taking sides in the battle.

Rosemary Forrest, a spokeswoman for the Augusta Warrior Project, which serves veterans locally and nationally, said Monday the government shutdown has not had a significant impact on east central Georgia yet, nor have discussions begun on the toll it may take in the future.

Lamb and Bishop said they hope America’s leaders figure out a way to reopen the federal government, primarily for the younger generations coming up behind them.

“We will survive no matter what happens,” Bishop said.

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THREATENED SERVICES

Veteran services that will be impacted by a lapse in appropriations

  • Veterans Benefits Administration’s regional public contact services will not be available
  • Veterans Benefits Administration’s processing of appeals and remands will be suspended
  • Freedom of Information and Privacy act requests will not be processed
  • Recruiting and hiring of Veteran job applicants will cease with the exception of the Veterans Health Administration
  • Presidential Memorial certificates will not be processed
  • Interments at National Cemeteries will be conducted on a reduced schedule
  • Military services coordinator operations will be suspended, including overseas
  • VA Secretary correspondence with veterans suspended
  • VetSuccess on Campus suspended
  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Counseling will be limited
  • VBA will not be able to continue overtime for claims processors
  • Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to be suspended when available funding is exhausted in late October

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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