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Murray: Government shutdown would hurt veterans

Feb. 3, 2011 - 05:50PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 3, 2011 - 05:50PM  |  
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The new Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee chairwoman warned Thursday that veterans could be hurt if a dispute about funding federal agencies leads to a government shutdown.

Temporary funding is now due to expire at midnight March 4. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said veterans she is representing as the committee leader "are worried when they hear us playing politics with running the government. They are coming home from this war. They are coming back into civilian life. They are trying to get their benefits checks, and they are struggling mightily to get a job again."

The last time the government was shut down as a result of a political standoff was in 1995, and Murray said veterans felt the impact.

"More than 400,000 veterans saw their disability benefits and pension claims delayed," she said. "Money that they were counting on didn't come to them. Payment of GI Bill education checks were delayed for hundreds of thousands of our veterans. Telephone calls from our veterans to veterans' benefits offices went unanswered. Mail from veterans to our VA offices wasn't opened. It wasn't answered."

Disability and pension checks and GI Bill benefits are paid at the start of the month, so a March 4 shutdown would not have an immediate effect on those payments. But a shutdown would close veterans' benefits offices, including claims processing and people answering questions, and could lead to delays in non-emergency medical appointments.

Of the 1995 situation, Murray said, "Across the board, veterans who were counting on our government to be there for them, just as they were there for us, were left in the dust. They're thinking about that now when they hear the hot political rhetoric back here."

A government shutdown is not inevitable, as House Republican leaders have talked of their intention to pass legislation to keep federal agencies running. The difficulty, though, is that House members are talking about including $30 billion to $100 billion in cuts in federal programs in the government funding bill, something that the Senate isn't prepared to pass.

If an agreement cannot be reached for some kind of funding, the shutdown would begin at midnight March 4, with only the Defense Department, federal law enforcement and essential workers, such as medical workers, reporting for work.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he does not want a government shutdown, but Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would not take the possibility of a temporary lapse in federal funding off the table as a negotiating tool in trying to get the White House and Senate Democrats to accept cuts in federal funding.

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