Kevin Secor, Special Assistant to the Secretary of Veterans for Veterans Service organizations, has provided JAVA an update with respect to VA service impacts due to current VBA employee furlough activity:
Over the last week, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has been relying on carryover funding to continue activities during the lapse in appropriations. However, at the close of business Monday, October 7 all of VBA’s carryover funding will be exhausted (please see the VA’s contingency plan for a lapse in appropriations). Starting Tuesday, October 8, over 7,000 VBA employees will be put into furlough status, consistent with VA’s contingency plan. Because of these furloughs, a number of services will be suspended, including: the Education Call Center; personal interviews and hearings at regional offices; educational and vocational counseling; outreach activities and programs, including those conducted at military facilities; and VetSuccess on Campus. The shutdown of public access to VBA facilities also affects Veterans Service Organizations with office space in VBA facilities, as public access to these VSOs is also suspended.
In addition, 2,754 Office of Information Technology (OIT) employees will also be furloughed Monday, October 7 as OIT’s carryover balances will be exhausted. All development of VA software will cease, including work on the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), the system critically important to reducing the backlog of disability claims.
Consistent with applicable law, VA identified functions and services that will continue during the lapse in appropriations. VA determined that claims processing actions necessary to the payment of compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits will continue until VA’s remaining mandatory funds for these programs are exhausted, which is projected to happen in late October. Claims processors will be on duty during their normal work day only. Although, prior to the lapse in appropriations, VBA had extended mandatory overtime for claims processors until November 16, overtime has ceased during the lapse.
VBA can continue to employ staff in its compensation and pension Call Centers. Individual Veterans can still initiate claims or check on the status of a claim by dialing 1-800-827-1000.
In addition, please note that VBA’s home loan guaranty and life insurance programs will continue operation during the appropriations lapse. However, Veterans seeking approval of VA home loans may be impacted, as access to Internal Revenue Service data used by private-sector lenders to verify income may not be available.
Given the staff reduction and in order to focus limited resources on providing essential services to Veterans and their families, VBA will be unable to respond to congressional inquiries at both VBA Headquarters and regional offices. Congressional inquiries include responding to constituent and legislative questions from Congressional members and their staffs. VBA will resume suspended public contact activities, including accepting and responding to congressional inquiries, as soon as possible following enactment of appropriations.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Field Shutdown Guide outlines the impact of the appropriations lapse on VA activities.