The government shutdown means the Pentagon can't pay families to travel to Dover Air Force Base when the remains of U.S. casualties return home. / Jose Luis Magana, AP
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 about 3.8 million veterans who rely on them, department spokeswoman Victoria Dillon says. 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.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday that the chamber will advance a bill Wednesday addressing military death benefit payments. "The House is going to act specifically on this and I hope the president will sign it," he said.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Democrats were focused on reopening the full government. The Senate has rejected all but one piecemeal fix in the shutdown impasse. The exception was a bill providing military pay during the shutdown.
"We're trying to get the government open to deal with all these issues," Levin said.
Other Pentagon costs affected by the shutdown:
â?¢ Reimbursing families for travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for meeting the remains of their loved one brought back from war.
â?¢ The cost of memorial services, caskets and other burial expenses.
â?¢ Paying the travel expenses of families who wish to be at the bedside of a direly wounded servicemember 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 the online publication, Defense One.
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 servicemember'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.
Contributing: Susan Davis
Copyright 2013 USATODAY.com
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