The Department of Veterans Affairs' efforts to eliminate a backlog of more than 400,000 veteran claims took a severe blow this week when the agency placed nearly 10,000 workers nationally on furlough because of the government shutdown.
The VA closed to the public its regional benefits office in Seminole. And it placed 271 workers there on unpaid furlough, according to the American Federation Of Government Employees Local 1594.
The furloughs, announced Monday, involve the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration and information technology staff.
Services at VA clinics and hospitals, including the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa and the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Seminole, are unaffected, the VA says.
VA officials said payments to veterans in its compensation, pension, educational and vocational rehabilitation programs will continue through late October.
About 700 workers are still working at the regional office in Pinellas.
"However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted," the VA said in a statement.
VA benefits officials either declined to comment or did not return calls. A spokeswoman for the regional office in Pinellas is out on furlough.
Claims processing is continuing, the VA says on its website. But it is halting overtime pay for those who had been working to eliminate the backlog of new claims.
The overtime had helped clear thousands of cases from the backlog in recent months, the VA says.
The VA has also suspended indefinitely the processing of claims appeals.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected], or (813) 226-3432.