WASHINGTON — The Veterans Benefits Administration furloughed 7,000 workers nationally on Tuesday and closed its regional office in Seattle and in 55 other cities, marking the start of the second week of the federal government shutdown.
The actions won’t immediately affect existing benefits claims or new claims. But the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) warned benefits checks and disability compensation slated to go out Nov. 1 could be delayed if the shutdown drags out until the end of October.
Regional offices handle calls and visits from veterans checking on their benefits. The Seattle office is located inside the Jackson Federal Building downtown. A call to the Seattle office Tuesday morning was answered by an automatic line saying wait time for live help was 25 minutes. The VA’s toll-free lines for vets seeking help remain open.
The 7,000 furloughs are on top of 2,754 VA’s information-technology workers who were released without pay on Monday. The House voted unanimously Saturday to approve retroactive pay for furloughed workers, but the Senate has not voted on it.
The VA also operates seven in-take offices in Washington for benefits claims. It was unclear if those locations — all inside military installations such as Joint Base Lewis McChord and the Naval Station Everett — remain open.
Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said veterans have already been affected by housing and employment programs that have been halted by the lapse in government funding.
“These furloughs are yet another example of how veterans are being punished by all aspects of the government shutdown,” Murray said in an email. “And the frustrating truth is that all of these services for our veterans could be restored tomorrow if John Boehner simply allowed a vote on a bill to reopen the government that is sitting in the House of Representatives and that is supported by Democrats and Republicans.”