VA regional benefits office in St. Pete closes - WFLA News Channel 8

VA regional benefits office in St. Pete closes

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The backlog of disability claims from veterans is about to get longer. Starting Tuesday, all 56 regional offices of the Veterans Benefits Affairs will be closed to the public. About 7,000 workers will be forced to take furloughs.

Florida's regional office is on the campus of Bay Pines VA Healthcare in St. Petersburg. Workers were greeted by a sign Tuesday morning, announcing the partial shutdown of their office.

"I was really hoping that we'd get a resolution before this," said employee Bill Reber. "We want to work, but they're not allowing us to work."

Reber is among hundreds of workers who were told to go home Tuesday. They're not sure when they'll return to their desks or when they'll start getting paid again.

"Well the morale is down, I can assure you of that. But this is something that has happened before," said Senior Veterans Service Representative Kevin Hartzog.

Hartzog says his position is considered critical, so he will continue coming to work each day without pay.

"We just have to bear it and do what we were hired to do," he said.  "Just to be able to come to work and do my job is going to benefit me at the end of the day- regardless."

Veterans, their family members, and survivors can call 1 (800) 827-1000 for information about existing claims. Veterans who wish to file new claims, can now only do so online.

The Disabled Americans Veterans chapter in St. Petersburg will offer help with claims forms while the regional office is closed, said DAV representative Kelly Sunday. DAV can be reached at (727) 526-9870.

According to a statement from the VA Public Affairs Office, VA claims processors have been working overtime since May to reduce the veterans claims backlog. More than 418,000 claims are still on backlog and that number is expected to grow while the regional offices are partially shut down.

There is also fear among veterans, their claims will no longer be paid if Congress doesn't act quick.

"Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October. However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted," says a statement from the VA Public Affairs Office.

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