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Some 555 vet benefits administration employees go without pay

Published October 8, 2013 6:00 pm

Shutdown • Services curtailed but not halted in most benefits cases.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake City's Veterans Benefits Administration office was one of the regional vet centers affected by the federal shutdown, with 7,000 employees furloughed nationwide.

About 165 employees were sent home without pay in Salt Lake City, while 390 remained on duty without pay, said Shaun Shenk, spokesman with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Denver.

The George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which employs 2,000 to 2,999 employees, according to a state list of top employers, was still open and in full operation.

"We really want to get the message to vets, if they have appointments, to keep those medical appointments," Shenk said.There are an estimated 160,000 veterans in Utah, from across all services and conflicts, though Vietnam vets represent the largest group, said Gary Harter, executive director of veterans affairs for the state.

"Every one of us is trying to do the things we need to," Harter said, "to make sure the veterans are taken care of to the best of our ability," Harter said.

At the Veterans Benefits Administration, located on the medical center campus on Foothill Drive, essential functions were still being performed — including payment of compensation, pensions, education and vocational-rehabilitation checks — at least through late October. But a memo from the agency headquarters indicated that processing might take longer than usual because claims processors were not being approved for overtime. And the statement warned that payments might be at risk if the shutdown continues for a longer period.

The V.A. issued an information sheet that listed programs impacted by the shutdown. Among those:

• Processing of appeals is suspended.

• Vocational rehabilitation and education counseling is limited.

• Public contact services are suspended.

• The education call center, inspector general hotline and consumer affairs are all halted.

On the other side of the ledger are services that are continuing. They include:

• All medical services, from surgeries to mental health care and dentistry.

• Insurance and home-loan processing.

• Crisis line.

• Readjustment counseling and military sexual-trauma counseling.