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Shutdown leads to NAS Whidbey furloughs
As a result of Congress’s inability to pass a budget by the Sept. 30 deadline, hundreds of Department of Defense employees at Whidbey Island were furloughed Tuesday as part of a country-wide government shutdown.
Of the approximately 1,200 civil service workers at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, employees related to safety, life and wellness will be exempted, said base spokesman Mike Welding. It was unclear how many of the base’s 1,200 contractors will be affected.
Many essential federal services island-wide will not be affected, however, including the U.S. Postal Service, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
“Let’s just hope for a quick resolution to this,” said Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kathy Reed. “When you take people’s pay away for no good reason, it hurts everybody.”
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said the shutdown adds to the frustration of island governments who have been trying to recover after the economic downturn and sequestration.
“People across the county will be impacted if this continues,” Price Johnson said. “I think it would be better for them to promote stability instead of manufacturing crises.”
As of press time early Tuesday, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives continued to send a short-term spending bill back and forth with no agreement. Republican leadership has refused to pass a spending bill without defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act.
“I am disappointed that the Senate and the House could not come to a reasonable compromise tonight,” said Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert. “A government shutdown is not in the best interest of the American people, whom we have promised to serve. But, I will not give up fighting for them.”
Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen accused House Republicans of “playing chicken with the government and our economy.”
“When veterans’ phone calls go unanswered, when school children are turned away from national parks, and when scientists working on the flu vaccine are told to go home, Americans will at least know who broke their government,” he said.
While not all Department of Veterans Affairs services will be shut down, many of the programs will be affected.
“VA medical centers, clinics and other health services have advance appropriations for 2014 and will remain open,” VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said Monday in a news release.
The VA has funds available to make sure claims and payments are processed, and pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs will continue through late October.
There are currently funds available to ensure claims, processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs will continue through late October, Dillon said. But after that, claims processing and payments in those programs will be suspended once the funds are used up. Also, the Veterans Benefits Administration will not be able to keep paying overtime for claims processors — a result of efforts to tame the controversial backlog of disability compensation claims.
All VA medical facilities and clinics will remain open and fully operational, providing inpatient and outpatient care, surgeries, prescriptions, dental treatments, extended care, mental health care, veterans’ centers, nursing home care and special healthcare services for women vets.
The VA also says it will continue to provide military sexual trauma counseling, home loan processing, vocational rehabilitation payment processing; compensation and pension claims processing, application processing for headstones, markers and medallions, notification of death-benefit actions, and fulfilling orders for prosthetics.
But the shutdown will mean suspension of the Veterans Benefits Administration Education Call Center; the VA Inspector General hotline; VA Consumer Affairs email, web and phone contacts; congressional liaison veterans’ queries; and VA job application functions. Recruiting and hiring will cease, the department said.
Interments of veterans in national cemeteries will continue, but at a reduced schedule.
At Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, two full-time national park employees were furloughed because of the shutdown, said Lisbeth Cort, interim Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve manager on Tuesday. About 21,000 park employees were furloughed around the country, she said.
“We’re answering the phones, but we’re curtailed with everything on the park service side,” Cort said.
Because of the partnership with the trust board, Cort said the office is able to remain open, unlike other parks across the country. For those who have received rehabilitation grants, they are still able to get assistance. All projects headed by the national park employees, such as trail maintenance, signage and the Ferry House rehabilitation have stopped, Cort said.
“Tonight I join with so many Washington families in being frustrated and disappointed that House Republicans have shut down the federal government over a crisis of their own creation,” said Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat. “Shutting down the government over a law that has — and will continue to — provide Washington families with access to affordable health care is the height of irresponsibility, and Washington state families deserve better.”
The last federal government shutdown occurred 17 years ago and lasted three weeks, according to news reports.