Furloughs At VA Leave Oklahoma Vets Concerned About Benefits

Monday, October 7th 2013, 5:50 pm
By: Craig Day

Editor's Note: After this story aired on News On 6 Monday, the Associated Press reported most of the VA is exempt from furloughs, but 7,000 VA workers will be furloughed on Tuesday and access to all regional offices will be suspended. Another 2,750 technology workers were furloughed Monday.

As the government shutdown enters its second week, many veterans are concerned. Oklahoma has an estimated 342,000 veterans. Many are worried if lawmakers don't reach a deal, their benefits ranging from health care to education programs could be threatened.

Navy Veteran Lewis Colbert is one of about 600 patients getting some type of care each day at the Jack Montgomery Veteran's Administration Medical Center in Muskogee. While not consumed with worry, he is wondering if VA medical benefits could be impacted by the government shutdown.

"It's all in the good Lord's making," said veteran Lewis Colbert. "Whatever it's going to be, it's going to be. It's up to the good Master above."

Despite the partial shutdown, all VA medical facilities and clinics will remain up and running.

"We are open; we're providing a full compliment of services we have as of this time last month," said VA Medical Center Director James Floyd.

See the Veterans Field Guide To Government Shutdown

Veteran's Administration medical facilities run off advanced appropriations, which means enough funds are in place to run through September of 2014.

"Our veterans can keep their appointments, come in and we'll take care of them just as we always have," Floyd said.

It comes as good news for Marine Dwight Ponds.

10/5/2013 Related Story: World War II Vet: They Won't Keep Us Locked Out Of Memorials

"I feel good about that you know, just hope it doesn't impact me in any kind of way," Ponds said.

But, there will be an impact in other areas.

If a solution isn't reached, on Tuesday the VA's Muskogee Regional Office, the largest of the VA's 56 regional offices, will close to the public leaving non-essential operations shut down, and veterans not knowing what's next.

"I don't know how it's going to affect me. I don't know if it's going to do anything to my benefits, I have no idea," said veteran Dwight Ponds.

As of Tuesday, if a solution isn't reached, VA call centers and hotlines, except for the Veteran's Crisis Line, won't operate. Internments at National Cemeteries will be on a reduced schedule.

Vocational Rehab and Education Counseling will be limited.

The number of employees furloughed at the Muskogee Regional office, the largest employer in Muskogee, won't be determined until Tuesday morning.

The Veteran's Administration will continue to accept and process claims for compensation, pensions, and education and vocational rehabilitation programs through late October.

But that will be suspended when funding runs out.