Disability compensation and pensions paid to some of York County's 40,000 veterans will be stopped if federal lawmakers can't strike a deal to end the government shutdown by late October, and the county's veterans office could have to tap into a donation-funded emergency resource to help local veterans.
Veterans and their surviving spouses and dependents have been receiving government checks as
scheduled since the shutdown started Oct. 1, but Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Wednesday the payments will stop if the stalemate continues.
York's veterans are a "patient and pretty resilient bunch," but nerves might get rattled as the threat of lost income approaches, said Philip Palandro, director of the county's Department of Veterans Affairs.
"A lot of veterans rely on that," he said. "It has not reached a panic level, but we field a couple of calls per day from people who want to know if their benefits or pension are going to go away. If it does get to that point, it is wrong."
Palandro said he has been speaking with veterans groups to keep people informed as developments unfold, and his office is working to make sure operations are smooth so "at least at this level here, we didn't hold the veteran up."
Finding help: If the shutdown persists, there are no county-level resources available to compensate all of the veterans who aren't being paid, Palandro said.
York's Veterans Affairs office serves tens of thousands of veterans per year, and they receive millions of dollars in pensions, disability compensation and death benefits, he said.
Last year alone, York County veterans got $5.2 million in benefits through claims processed by the county office.
Staff members are developing a response plan to a longer-term shutdown, though there might not be much the county's veterans office can do, he said.
"There is an emergency Veterans In Need Fund, but it has a bottom and it's not nearly equipped to field all of that," he said. "It would be gone instantly."
The fund was built solely from community donations, and it contains about $90,000, Palandro said.
If there's a need to tap into it, money would be distributed by priority to the veterans in most dire need of help, he said.
"There's a lot of good people who are hardworking people and they rely on their benefits and it's a shame to think the people who actually fought for that government to be in place would suffer," he said. "Some families have lost their kids and their husbands and their wives .... and because our politicians can't get it together, they might not get that money."
Donations to the fund can be sent to York County Veterans in Need Fund, 100 W. Market St., 17401.
Delays: The shutdown is contributing to a backlog in processing claims, but how much longer York veterans are waiting for their benefits remains to be seen as the shutdown's "ripple effect" spreads, Palandro said.
The backlog affects everything from disability claims to benefits that pay for in-home care or assisted living facilities, he said.
"These are common, good, hard-working people who rely on that money," he said. "They need that money and they deserve that money."
Commander Irving Collier of White Rose VFW Post 556 in Springettsbury Township is a Vietnam veteran who served in the Marine Corps from 1965 to 1969.
He said he's frustrated that people who collect welfare will still get a check, as can the politicians responsible for the shutdown unless they (like York's federal legislators) are refusing their pay.
"A veteran, for what he's done, should not be No. 2 or No. 10," he said. "It's wrong. We have veterans who are disabled, who have post traumatic stress. They need help. They're the ones who made our country what it is, not the politicians."
White Rose has a membership of about 400 veterans, and "all of them that are receiving any benefits from the Veterans Affairs are definitely relying on that check," he said.
More in need: With the war in Afghanistan in its 13th year and hundreds of thousands of veterans having returned from Iraq, veterans are enrolling in VA care at higher rates than previous generations.
The House has passed legislation that would provide veterans disability, pension and other benefits if the shutdown is prolonged. But the White House has urged lawmakers not to take a piecemeal approach to continuing government services.
Shinseki made that case as well, saying it's not the best solution for veterans. He noted that even if the VA were fully funded, some services to veterans would suffer.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Christina Kauff man at firstname.lastname@example.org.