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Senate panel passes VA shutdown protection

Nov. 19, 2013 - 11:00AM   |  
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The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee moved Tuesday to protect all veterans programs from a future government shutdown.

But the measure, S 932, won’t help immediately.

Because the shutdown protection involves providing funds one year in advance for all veterans programs, the best-case scenario would have its provisions first apply in fiscal 2015, which begins on Oct. 1, 2014.

That means if there is another government shutdown on Jan. 15, when temporary appropriations expire, only veterans medical programs that already receive advanced funding would be protected.

The Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013 enjoys wide support from veterans’ groups and bipartisan support from lawmakers. But the Obama administration, Veterans Affairs Department and a few members of Congress are not on board.

The legislation comes in the wake of the 17-day shutdown in October that led to furloughs of about 10,000 VA workers, slowed processing of benefits claims and for a few days closed VA regional offices to the public.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved the bill on a 13-1 vote. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., ranking Republican on the committee, was the lone opponent. He said he has concerns that providing funding one year in advance would limit the ability of Congress to shape veterans’ programs.

Current law already provides advance funding for VA medical programs and services. The bill would bring into the fold VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration, information technology program, national cemeteries, construction and the Office of Inspector General. The bill also would allow advance funding for actual benefits payments.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has passed similar legislation that does not include advance funding of benefits, although there appears to be widespread agreement to also prevent disability and survivors benefits and GI Bill education benefits from lapsing if Congress fails to pass a budget by the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.

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