Shutdown affects local veterans

PARKERSBURG – Five days into the government shutdown some local residents are starting to feel the pinch from the first shutdown in 17 years.

Along with area federal employees who are off the job for the foreseeable future, some local veterans on the G.I. Bill are dealing with delays in the payment of their benefits.

Jared Towner, legislative director of the West Virginia Veterans Coalition, said the effects of the shutdown so far are more like a slowdown in processing.

“Since the shutdown I’ve had 18 calls and four people in person telling me there has been a slowdown in the processing of their benefits,” he said. “I called the Veterans Administration and I was on hold for an hour, but I found out the earlier the benefits will come may be Oct. 9.”

Towner said under normal circumstance once enrollment in the G.I. Bill has been verified, they will receive their money soon.

“If they verify it on Sept. 30 they will get the check on Oct. 3,” he said. “Many people think the G.I. Bill is for education; it’s actually a living stipend for rent, food and other life expenses. Many of us have jobs during the day and are in school as well.”

Towner said the G.I. Bill is one of the most efficient programs but with reduced staff it will take longer to process everything.

Many veterans were told they would get their benefits on Friday but now they have been told it will be next week, he said.

“When I called they told me Oct. 9,” he said. “I asked if that was because of the shutdown, but they said they were told to not comment on the shutdown.”

Towner said in the meantime many veterans are anxiously waiting for their benefits.

“There are a lot of people who are scared to death,” he said. “I had a Marine who was in tears; he said he’s afraid his family will be kicked out of their house for not paying their rent or how to feed them. He asked me to call his landlord to assure him he is not a deadbeat.”

Towner said the only thing he has been able to do is tell them to check with local food banks and churches for help.

Towner said he does not fault the Veterans Administration for what has happened; the impasse is beyond its control.

“The VA has done a good job keeping vets informed on the shutdown,” he said. “They have made statements on what to expect but they’ve kept some vague language in there because so much is not known.”

Towner said he has been told if the shutdown is only two to three weeks they will be able to get their money but beyond that is a question.

“They said the November payment for October will be affected if the shutdown lasts,” he said. “It might be a funds issue or a processing issue due to reduced staff.”

While some progress was made in reducing the VA backlog before the shutdown, Towner said the shutdown will put them back where they were before and the backlog could be worse.

“It’s growing by the minute,” he said. “New claims come in and they are in the electronic form of being put on the shelf.”

Towner said VA medical care is funded for the full year and he is not aware of any problems in the payment of benefits to disabled veterans.

So far in other areas there have been no immediate effects from the shutdown.

Tim Brunicardi, director of marketing at the Camden Clark Medical Center, said for now there has been no impact on the hospital. He said the only programs that affect the hospital would be Medicare and Medicaid and are funded.

Carol Jackson, director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council, said while the council receives many federal grants, they will not be impacted by the shutdown.

“All of the programs have been funded and allocated for this cycle,” she said. “This could impact programs in the next cycle.”

Jill Parsons, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley, said if any local companies have been affected because of government contracts she has not been made aware of the situation.

Charlotte Keim, president and CEO of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, said she is not aware of any problems related to the shutdown and government contracts.

“I’m not aware of any affects locally,” she said. “We are very fortunate we have few businesses that depend on government contracts.”

Dick Wittberg, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, said no department programs have been affected. But there could be problems later.

“Depending on the length of the shutdown the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) may be affected,” he said.