In anticipation of a possible government shutdown later this week, leaders from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have begun warning employees of possible office closures, program interruptions and potential furloughs that will result from a budget lapse.
The moves won’t mean any work stoppage for active-duty service members, but it could mean a disruption in their pay until the federal financial issues are resolved.
On Monday evening, Senate Republicans blocked a bid by Democrats to push through legislation to extend the current federal budget past Oct. 1 and raise the country’s borrowing limit. Unless lawmakers can find a compromise plan on the issues by the end of the week, many government agencies will run out of funding and be forced to shutter temporarily.
Last week, Veterans Affairs officials released their shutdown contingency plan, which will be less severe than other department’s because of advance appropriations approved by Congress in last year’s budget agreement.
As a result, 96 percent of VA employees will not have to worry about furloughs if a shutdown occurs, and most VA programs — including medical care, benefits processing and burials at department cemeteries — will continue uninterrupted.
Some staff in the office of the VA Secretary could face work stoppages, and some department call centers and job assistance programs would temporarily close.
The effects at the Defense Department would be more severe.
In a memo to defense employees and troops on Monday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said even in the event of a shutdown, the military “must continue operations necessary for the safety of human life or the protection of property.”
That includes continuing operations overseas and efforts related to the evacuation and resettlement of individuals from Afghanistan.
Active-duty troops will continue working. Reserve personnel performing active duty functions will also continue, but inactive duty functions will be cancelled.
Only civilian personnel who are “necessary to carry out or support excepted activities” will be able to work after Sept. 30. That means about 357,000 civilian workers, while another 429,000 would be furloughed.
Active-duty troops will see permanent change of station orders delayed until after a shutdown is complete. Temporary duty travel and conference participation would be cancelled.
Military medical and dental care would continue, as would child care services and certain other family support activities. But many of those offices could see their hours curtailed. Defense Department schools would remain open.
In October 2013, during the government shutdown which lasted 17 days, military death gratuities were halted by the political fight. But in 2018 lawmakers passed legislation to allow those benefits to be paid out even if the budget situation is unsettled.
In addition, Coast Guard service members — whose pay comes through the Department of Homeland Security, not the Pentagon — could also face paycheck delays, but will remain on duty.
In her memo, Hicks said defense officials are hopeful “Congress will quickly pass the annual appropriations bill” before the Thursday night deadline.
The full military memo is available on the Defense Department web site.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.