Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner calling on him to pass legislation that protects veterans and ensure they continue to receive the benefits they've earned in the event of another government shutdown.
"America's veterans shouldn't be held hostage when Congress' won't do its job," Braley said. "They put their lives on the line for our country. The least Congress can do is honor the commitments it's made.
"Veterans across Iowa rely on the services provided by the VA and a delay in any of these services hurts men and women who have served our country. That's why today I'm calling on Congress to pass this sensible, bipartisan legislation protecting our veterans."
The Putting Veterans Funding First Act would require Congress to fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) a year ahead of schedule to ensure veterans receive the benefits they've earned and keep all VA services operational in the event of another government shutdown.
By funding the VA a year ahead of schedule, all VA services will have timely, predictable funding, as well as make it easier to plan for key investments in claims processing, information technology and important construction projects.
Currently, VA services like hospitals and medical centers are required to be funded a year ahead of schedule to make sure that there is never a lapse in service. Due to this, all VA hospitals and medical centers were able to stay open during the recent government shutdown. However, other VA services were suspended, including the processing of disability claims.
Yesterday, Braley met with veterans at the Iowa Veterans' Welcome Center in Cedar Rapids to talk about the legislation.
Full text of Braley's letter follows; a copy can be downloaded at the following link: http://1.usa.gov/16tj2VP
October 23, 2013
The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives
H-232 U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Speaker Boehner,
I'm writing to urge you to bring H.R. 813, the Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013, as amended, to the House floor as soon as possible.
During the recent government shutdown, I heard from hundreds of Iowa veterans who were frustrated because they could not communicate with the Veterans Administration (VA), which shut down many services due to lack of appropriations. Many of these veterans were at risk of not receiving their benefits as the shutdown continued. H.R. 813 would fundamentally change the way the VA receives its annual funding. It would require Congress to fund the VA's discretionary budget a year ahead of schedule, just like veterans' medical care is funded, ensuring that all VA services will have the resources they need when they need them.
Our nation has a sacred trust with the men and women who have served and sacrificed so much. Congress has a moral obligation to ensure that our veterans are provided the benefits and services they need, and have earned, without disruption or delay. This bill will do that, and I strongly urge you to bring it up for a vote.
Thank you for your consideration regarding this issue and I look forward to hearing back from you soon.
BACKGROUND: IMPACT OF 2013 GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN ON VETERANS PROGRAMS
Shutdown Could Delay Processing of Iowans' New Veterans Benefit Claims. For Iowa veterans, "there could be a delay in processing new [veterans] benefits, officials said." [Des Moines Register, 10/1/13]
Hundreds of Iowa Veterans Participating in Honor Flights to Washington, DC, Faced Closed Monuments. "Early Thursday, 162 veterans, mostly from the Korean War and World War II, are scheduled to board an Honor Flight and head to Washington, DC But many of the sites that typically are a part of these one-day visits to the capital won't be open if there's a government shutdown." [Quad City Times, 10/1/13]
Shutdown threatened compensation and pension payments. "If the shutdown continues into late October, the VA warns that compensation and pension payments to veterans will be halted." [Associated Press, 10/13/13]
Shutdown threatened 5.1 million compensation checks, 433,000 disability payments, 360,000 spousal benefits. "Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki warned last week that financing vet benefits could become difficult if the impasse continues. Compensation checks to 5.1 million veterans won't be issued Nov. 1; 433,000 fully disabled veterans might not receive payments; and 360,000 surviving spouses and children of wartime veterans may stop getting VA money, Shinseki told a congressional oversight committee." [USA Today, 10/14/13]
Efforts to Reduce VA Backlog were stalled. "The VA says its efforts to reduce the backlog in disability benefit claims have been stalled because claims processors are no longer being required to work 20 hours of overtime per month." [Associated Press, 10/13/13]
Access to Regional VA offices was suspended. "Access to regional VA offices has been suspended, making it harder for veterans to get information about their benefits and the status of their claims." [Associated Press, 10/13/13]
Shutdown threatened 500,000 tuition payments to veterans and spouses. "VA tuition and stipend payments to more than 500,000 veterans and spouses enrolled in college also are threatened. The VA has furloughed nearly 8,000 employees, [Eric Shinseki] said." [USA Today, 10/14/13]