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Shutdown Update #6. VA Claim Offices Reopen

Disability Benefit Decisions and Payments Resume; Crisis Temporarily Averted.   

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officially announced that all 56 claim processing offices reopened as of October 17.  These offices were closed earlier this month because of a lack of Congressional appropriations that led to a partial government shutdown.

For Veterans and their families, this means VA employees are once again developing and deciding disability compensation and pension claims.  New, re-opened, and appealed claims decided by VA in favor of Veterans will be paid.  More importantly, existing monthly payments will continue as scheduled.

Major Veteran Groups Played Key Role

Veterans organizations joined together to make the shutdown a major national news story.  Much of the credit for the public outcry and subsequent action by Congress can and should be given those groups.

Impact of VBA Shutdown

Here are salient statistics from the “Monday Morning Workload Report” published by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) from September 30, 2013, the day before the shutdown, and October 21, 2013, four days after VBA fully re-opened.

VA Measure

Before Shutdown, September 30

After Opening, October 21

Change

Pending New and Re-Opened Disability Claims

725,469

717,007

-8,462

Average Number of Days to Complete New and Re-Opened Claims

378.1

351.6

-26.5

Pending Claim Appeals

258,077

260,984

+2,907

Pending Dependency Claims

212,434

218,245

+5,811

New Crisis on Horizon

Although an open government is good news for our Veterans and families, the crisis continues because there remains no final resolution.  As Bergmann & Moore reported, after two weeks of anxiety among Veterans and families that VA’s claim delay and error crisis (the infamous “backlog”) would worsen and VA checks would not go out, now we can exhale.  For a few months.

According to the Stars & Stripes newspaper, VBA’s claim backlog actually reduced in size in the past few weeks, down to 717,000 from 725,000.  However, the Congressional deal worked out to re-open the government is only temporary.  TIME magazine reports the funding approved by Congress expires January 15, 2014.  The debt ceiling limit is set for another vote on February 7, 2014.  Bergmann & Moore will be following this issue closely for our Veterans and their families.

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