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Shutdown’s impact may not be over for veterans

Posted at 12:25 PM, Oct 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-20 10:37:04-04

(CNN) — The partial government shutdown ended five days ago, but America’s veterans may continue to feel its effects for some time.

Throughout the 16-day shutdown, efforts to clear the Department of Veterans Affairs’ backlog of veterans’ disabilities claims stalled, according to a department official. This delay has created concern about Secretary Eric Shinseki’s ability to keep his pledge to end all backlogged claims — those older than 125 days — by 2015, the official said.

The VA employees responsible for processing these claims were not furloughed, but the department couldn’t continue mandatory overtime to keep up with the backlog during the shutdown.

In testimony before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs this month, Shinseki said the shutdown had “led to delays for an average of 1,400 veterans a day.”

“As a result,” Shinseki said, “we are no longer making the significant gains we have made in recent months toward eliminating the backlog in claims.”

While the shutdown was in place, veterans were also prevented from visiting many of the memorials on the National Mall commemorating their service. Honor Flight groups were given an exemption under the First Amendment that allowed them to enter the National World War II Memorial, but that memorial was otherwise closed to the public, as were the nearby Vietnam Veterans and the Korean War Veterans memorials.

Even now that the shutdown is over, some veterans say they are upset with how politicians in Washington handled the crisis.

“They’re being paid a lot of money, all of them,” World War II veteran Harry Wisniewski told CNN on Saturday. “They should be able to sit down like sensible people and settle these damn things and not do this kind of stuff. How can they just say this is the way we settle it, block people from going to see the memorial? That’s foolish.”

CNN’s Chris Lawrence and Tom Dunlavey contributed to this report.