TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Some services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will stop if the government shuts down this weekend, but officials said most patients should not notice a difference.
Tampa Bay area VA facilities help tens of thousands of veterans who depend on them for healthcare they earned when they served.
U.S. Representative Kathy Castor said the shutdown would impact many Tampa Bay area residents, including small business owners waiting on government loans, and women who depend on federal food programs.
But she is confident about the VA staying up and running.
“Veterans healthcare will continue,” Castor said. “The benefits will continue.”
The VA compiled a contingency plan for government shutdowns. The document indicates since the the agency is funded in advance, 97% of its nearly 457,000 employees will remain on the job, but just under 16,000 will be furloughed.
Castor said she is concerned about outreach programs that help veterans.
Learn more: Veteran Field Guide to Government Shutdown
“They will not be on the job most likely and in a community like ours that is rich with veterans and heroes, that’s not acceptable,” Castor said. “That’s wrong.”
Bay Pines Public Affairs Officer Rob Frazier credited advanced funding from Congress for keeping the agency going during a shutdown.
“The VA pursued a comprehensive approach to diminish the impact of a potential shutdown on Veterans and their family members,” Frazier said. “As a result, Veteran medical care and services will continue without interruption.”
But according to the VA, several other services will shut down, including the GI Bill hotline, career counseling, and public affairs and outreach. The VA benefits regional offices would also be closed.
U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis said Friday the government shutdown “looks increasingly likely.”
Bilirakis and Castor both said they hope a compromise can stop the shutdown.
But if it happens, Bilirakis said taking care of the vulnerable will be a priority.
“My constituents can rest assured that the most critical government services, such as the processing of Social Security, Medicare and VA benefits, will not be interrupted or delayed,” Bilirakis said. “We still have a considerable amount of work to do, and I stand ready to find common ground without compromising my principles.”
Veterans’ advocacy groups are relieved health care is a priority, but Jimmie Smith, of Concerned Veterans for America, said he is concerned about the politics if there’s a shutdown.
“Our concern is they don’t try to use veterans as pawns in this issue,” Smith said. “And we hope that in the future, that they’ll give more veterans more choice through Community Care. That choice will make sure veterans don’t fall into this window.”