Veterans' Benefits Could Stop Next Month If Shutdown Continues

October 09, 2013

Arizona veterans could have their benefits cut off if the government shutdown is not over by Nov. 1. That was the message the Veterans Affairs Secretary delivered Wednesday to a congressional committee.

Kirkpatrick Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick at a press conference asking for more federal assistance for Yarnell Fire victims in July 2013. (Photo by Steve Shadley-KJZZ)

Secretary Eric Shinseki told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that his office is running out of money, and he urged Congress to pass emergency legislation that will partially or fully fund veteran’s programs.

Flagstaff Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick is on the committee, and she said the shutdown is another frustrating setback, because the VA was already way behind in its work. 

“We know that the secretary has to lay off 2,000 IT people, so the work in terms of clearing up the backlog has come to a screeching halt,” said Kirkpatrick.

She said she is concerned that Arizona veterans and their families will suffer financial problems if the government cannot provide them with their benefits in a few weeks. 

“The good news is that the funding for the hospitals in Arizona was advanced funding, so they will stay open, and then we are just going to have to keep an eye on it in terms of where the cuts are going to happen and how that’s going to affect communities,” said Kirkpatrick.

The family of Daniel Somers, an Arizona soldier, attended the congressional hearing, and they are concerned the shutdown is denying veterans the mental health care they need. Somers was involved in combat missions in Iraq nearly a decade ago. He was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder before he took his own life at his Phoenix home. 

His father Howard said Daniel was able to meet with a psychiatrist he liked at the Phoenix VA Hospital, but his doctor retired, and Daniel was told he would be contacted about how he could continue treatment. 

“He was told he would be sent a postcard. Well, this was in 2008. He committed suicide in June of 2013 and had never received notification that he had been assigned another provider,” said Somers.

In his suicide letter published on the internet, Daniel said that "he was sorry it had to end this way but his pain was finally over.”  Daniel’s father said his pain has only just begun, and he worries that more VA staff cuts are on the way during the Congressional stalemate.

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