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U.S. Shutdown holding up military, VA benefits

The government shutdown is denying an array of financial benefits to families of troops killed in combat, training or by other causes in the military.
 
In addition, services to veterans were further curtailed Tuesday as the Department of Veterans Affairs exhausted some carryover funding and furloughed 7,000 workers who process compensation claims.
 
As a result, the VA cut off public access Tuesday to all 56 regional offices where veterans routinely walk in to file claims for compensation of combat- or other service-related wounds, injuries or illnesses.
 
Major veteran service organizations expressed outrage Tuesday that these facilities were temporarily shuttered because many of their employees use this office space to assist veterans in preparing what are often complex compensation claims.
 
"Because Congress and the White House refuse to speak to each other, our country's veterans are suffering more with each passing day of this extremely dangerous impasse," said Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, the largest veterans organization with 2.4 million members.
 
It remains unclear whether the VA will be sending out compensation checks on Nov. 1 to some 3.8 million veterans who rely on them, says department spokeswoman Victoria Dillon. While the VA is continuing to process compensation cases this month, funding for this will run out by the end of October if the shutdown continues, she says.
 
The VA pays out about $5 billion the first of each month to veterans in compensation and pension payments, Dillon says.
 
Meanwhile, the families of four soldiers and a Marine killed in Afghanistan since the shutdown last week are not receiving a $100,000 death gratuity or any unpaid income due their loved ones, or being reimbursement for burial expenses, the Pentagon says.
 
"Unfortunately, as a result of the shutdown, we do not have the legal authority to make death gratuity payments at this time," says Navy Lt. Com. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.
 
Other Pentagon costs impacted by the shutdown:
 
• Reimbursing families for travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for meeting the remains of their loved one brought back from war.
 
• The cost of memorial services, caskets and other burial expenses.
 
• Paying the travel expenses of families who wish to be at the bedside of a direly wounded service member brought from combat to an Army hospital in Germany.
 
"We are keeping a close eye on those survivors," he says. "We're ready to pay out as soon as the money comes through. We care a great deal about them."
 
News of this cut in death reimbursements by the Pentagon was first reported by NBC.
 
Payments that are continuing during the shutdown, according to Christensen, include the processing of a $400,000 death insurance policy and a monthly survivor benefit stipend amounting to a percentage of the slain service member's base pay.
 
The VA said its success in reducing a backlog of compensation claims is now in jeopardy because it can no longer require employees to work overtime to cut through the delayed cases. The department began in May placing workers on a mandatory overtime schedule of at least 20 hours per month and succeeded in reducing the backlog by 30%.
 
Mandatory overtime was to continue through November, followed by voluntary overtime. But that ended with the shutdown and the backlog of compensation cases pending longer than four months has held steady at nearly 420,000 cases, Dillon says. 

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