(WASHINGTON)—The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) renews its call for the end of the government lockout as 7,000 employees working for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) are furloughed this week.
“The VA backlog has an unacceptable number of veterans waiting for benefits decisions and the lockout of the very people who help to process those claims is only going to make a bad situation worse,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “Our veterans deserve our unwavering commitment to high quality care and attention to their needs after serving our country. We cannot fulfill our end of the bargain if members of Congress don’t fulfill theirs.”
Many veterans have already waited for a year or more for their initial claims to be decided without any other source of income. In most cases, veterans cannot access VA health care, other VA services, or receive consideration for priority for federal employment until their benefits are awarded.
The appeals process for veterans’ claims, which already takes several years on average to complete, will be further delayed as a result of the shutdown. Claims processing will be slowed by the furlough of personnel on quality review teams and VBA has stated that veterans will stop receiving their benefits if the shutdown continues into late October.
“This is a lose-lose scenario for federal employees and the veterans we serve,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma L. Lee. “Veterans sacrificed greatly to earn their benefits, and we need to be on the job to deliver them. VBA is already critically understaffed and the lockout is only making it worse. Our veterans deserve better from their elected leaders.”
“The impact of this shutdown on our country is a nightmare,” said Cox. “As a registered nurse, serving our nation’s heroes for more than 20 years, I know first-hand the challenges our vets face, and the honor they deserve. This lockout has forced the closure of regional offices, where calls will go unanswered and services suspended. The time is now for our elected leaders to end this political bickering, and put our public servants back to work so we can serve the American people.”