VA Regional Office Closes Doors, But No One’s Talking

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WACO (October 8, 2013)—The Waco VA Regional Office, which serves many of the more than 920,000 veterans living in 164 Central, North and West Texas counties, closed its doors late Tuesday morning, but no one was talking about why.

Calls to local, regional and national VA officials went unanswered or weren’t returned and workers who were leaving the office in downtown Waco refused to comment.

The office supports a range of benefit programs including compensation, pension, vocational rehabilitation, and employment.

Nationwide, the VA is furloughing about 7,000 Veterans Benefit Affairs employees and next Monday 2,754 Office of Information Technology employees will be funded as the department’s carryover balances run out.

Claims processing and payments for compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation could continue through late October.

The partial government shutdown has not affected VA medical facilities, but last week officials said funds for claims processing at the Waco Regional Office would run out by the end of the month.

"We can confirm that VA has funds available for claims processing activities at the Waco RO (and other ROs) to continue through late October 2013, for VA disability compensation and pension, and for vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits,” VA Regional Office spokesman Tom Morley said in a statement last Thursday.

Employees of the office have been working, some on mandatory overtime, to reduce a 50,000-case backlog and a shutdown could threaten the progress they’ve made.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, blamed President Barack Obama in a statement Thursday.

"Our veterans deserve the best in care, and right now they're being denied critical services because the president is choosing politics over their well-being. It's time for the president to roll up his sleeves, come to the table and be willing to talk to Republicans to solve this," Cornyn said.

Mr. Obama said Thursday he told U.S. House Speaker John Boehner he's willing to negotiate with Republicans on their priorities, but not under the threat of "economic chaos."

Mr. Obama spoke to reporters at the White House Tuesday in the midst of the eighth day of a partial government shutdown and a few hours after calling Boehner.

He said he urged Boehner to hold a vote immediately to reopen the government.

The White House said Mr. Obama also urged Boehner to hold a vote that would allow the government to borrow more money.

Senate Democrats are planning a vote this week to provide new borrowing, without new spending cuts Republicans want.

Meanwhile, House Republicans floated broad hints Tuesday that
they might be willing to pass short-term spending legislation in order to end the shutdown and avert a default, but in exchange would want immediate talks with the Obama administration on reducing deficits and changing the health care law.

Mr. Obama said he's "absolutely willing" to talk with "reasonable Republicans" about those issues,but only after the shutdown is ended and the threat of a default is averted.