Vets under siege by shutdown’s ripple effects

The lack of access to some benefits during the shutdown has caused lasting frustration. 

by Leilani Peltz, News Editor

With the reopening of the government last week, it would seem everything may return to as it was before the closure. Closing the government affected many federal workers and programs—and hit military veterans especially hard.

Access to commissaries and disability benefits were suspended during the shutdown, leaving many vets struggling to maintain their livelihood and whether the adverse effects continue to linger.

Even after leaving active duty, many veterans maintain access to commissaries, but during part of the shutdown, the commissaries were closed.

Commissaries, the military’s grocery store, stayed open the first day of the shutdown to sell and get rid of disposable food before closing indefinitely on Oct. 2. The stores remained closed for almost a week because no workers would be available to keep them running during the shutdown. This forced families who relied on the products bought from there to find other places to shop, and those who are located in remote areas had to drive over an hour away just to do their shopping.

One of the benefits the commissaries offer is the items sold are tax-free and often cheaper than the products sold in civilian stores. A gallon of milk, for example, which can cost upwards of $4 per gallon at a supermarket is $2.99 or less at the commissary.

With the 7.5 percent sales tax in California, a grocery bill can quickly add up, as not all food is tax exempt.

Another concern caused by the government closure involved medical benefits being postponed. All new VA claims for disability were delayed by the shutdown after 7,800 VA employees were left furloughed without pay, hindering the progress that had been made with processing medical claims in a timely manner. In an article from The Washington Post, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said that the VA was not well prepared for a government shutdown and did not believe that Congress would permit such a thing to happen.

“A shutdown of government does not occur often, and we had no good plans in place,” Shinseki said. “That didn’t become obvious to us until late September.”

The Washington Post also wrote the VA ceased paying overtime for claims processors Oct. 1, [and] the backlog of disability and pensions claims increased by about 200 [as of Oct.9] and now stands at approximately 418,700.

 

Whether or not the 15-day shutdown will impact benefits in November still remains to be seen. Here’s hoping that the VA employees will be able to make up for the weeks lost during the shutdown, especially with the loss of overtime.

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