The head of largest veterans’ group blasted U.S. political leaders Tuesday for a budget standoff that has led to closing 56 Veterans Affairs Department regional offices to the public.
“Our nation’s leaders need a reality check,” said Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the 2.4 million-member American Legion. “Do they really think they are serving the best interest of our veterans or the best interests of all Americans by forcing government agencies to shut down?”
“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,” Dellinger said.
Dellinger’s comments come as the VA announced that furloughs of 7,000 employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration has forced regional offices to be closed to the public. Veterans’ are not allowed in the buildings and regional office phones will not be answered.
Furloughs come one week after the government fell into a partial shutdown on Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, because Congress did not pass appropriations bills to keep agencies running. Veterans’ health care programs continue to operate and benefits claims processors continue to work but furloughs are taking effect as the VA runs out of previously appropriated funds.
The Legion, like other veterans’ organizations, has veterans service officers working in VA regional offices to help with claims. As a result of closing the buildings to the public, veterans service officers have been told they may not use office space allocated to them in the regional offices, according to a Legion statement.
The House of Representatives passed a resolution on Oct. 3 that would have avoided furloughs for most of the VA’s benefits staff by providing a temporary appropriations as budget negotiations continue. This was one of several House-passed bills that the Senate has not taken up because this would not resolve the overall government funding issue.