As the partial federal government shutdown enters its third week, veterans may be asking what the effects might be on their benefits.
The good news is that the shutdown should have very limited effects on veterans’ benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs remains fully funded and it promises operations “will continue unimpeded,” according to the agency’s website.
The Shutdown Explained
The shutdown involves appropriations for nine federal departments that receive funds annually appropriated by Congress—Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation and Treasury.
Funding for those departments ran out Dec. 22, triggering mass furloughs of federal workers. The New York Times estimates that 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed and another 420,000, who are deemed “essential,” are working without pay.
The budget impasse centers on President Donald Trump’s demand that any appropriations legislation must earmark $5 billion to fund a border wall—a proposition that has lacked sufficient Congressional support.
About a quarter of the federal government is affected by the shutdown. Earlier this year, Congress passed five spending bills for sustained long-term expenditures. Those bills funded the Departments of Labor, Energy, Defense, Health and Human Services and Education and Veterans Affairs.
Benefit Payments to Continue
The VA is fully funded for fiscal 2019, thanks to enactment of a $86.5 billion appropriations bill in September. Thus, funding for veterans’ benefits is NOT tied to the current appropriations bill. Retirees and survivor benefit plan recipients should still receive their pension checks during the partial shutdown. In addition, VA disability and GI Bill benefits payments will continue.
Claims for benefits should be processed on time and appeals to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals should proceed as normal.
“The VA itself should continue operating without issue, however the VA interfaces with a number of other Federal agencies and contractors who are affected. This includes HUD, which partners with the VA on veteran homeless issues,” according to Nick Liermann, Pond Lehocky attorney and Army veteran.
TSGLI Claims and Payments
On area of particular concern to Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano clients is Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Injury (TSGLI) benefits. TSGLI provides short-term financial assistance to severely injured Servicemembers and Veterans to help them in their recovery from traumatic injuries, whether they were incurred on or off duty.
Like the other type of veterans’ benefits, TSGLI benefits will be paid on time. In addition, the TSGLI program is administered by a private insurance carrier, meaning there should be no delays in processing claims.
Effects on Federal Courts
One potential effect could be seen by those veterans with appeals pending in the federal courts. Despite the shutdown, the federal government has remained open for business by using court fee balances and other funds on hand. However, those funds run out on January 11.
If that happens, “nonessential” federal court workers will be furloughed while a skeleton crew of workers will remain on duty without pay. The courts would then handle only those matters deemed essential under U.S. law. Individual courts will be left to decide which matters are essential.
Since the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is a part of the federal judiciary, it will also be impacted by the January 11 funding shortage. Thus, appeals regarding veterans’ benefits could be delayed due to worker furloughs.
Need Information or Help?
Pond Lehocky’s lawyers and staff will continue monitor the shutdown situation and notify clients of any effects on their cases. If you have any questions, please contact us.
Additionally, to find out if you may eligible for veterans’ benefits, email Attorney Nick Liermann and the Pond Lehocky TSGLI team at TSGLI@pondlehocky.com or call 800-568-7500.