In anticipation of a possible government shutdown later this week, officials from the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments began warning employees of possible office closures, program interruptions and potential time off that would result from a budget interruption.
The measures will not mean any work stoppage for active duty members, but it could mean an interruption in their pay until federal financial problems are resolved.
On Monday evening, Senate Republicans blocked an offer by Democrats to pass legislation to extend the current federal budget past Oct. 1 and increase the country’s borrowing limit. Unless lawmakers find a compromise plan on the issues by the end of the week, many government agencies will be strapped for funding and forced to shut down temporarily.
Last week, Veterans Affairs officials released their contingency plan for the shutdown, which will be less severe than that of other government departments because of the advance funds approved by Congress in last year’s budget deal.
As a result, 96% of VA employees won’t have to worry about time off in the event of a shutdown, and most VA programs – including medical care, benefit processing, and burials at departmental cemeteries. – will continue without interruption.
Some staff in the VA secretary’s office could face work stoppages, and some call centers and employment assistance programs would be temporarily closed.
The effects at the Ministry of Defense would be more serious.
In a note to defense employees and troops on Monday, Assistant Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said that even in the event of a shutdown, the military “must continue operations necessary for the safety of human life or protection of property “.
This includes continued operations abroad and efforts related to the evacuation and resettlement of individuals from Afghanistan.
Troops in active service will continue to work. Reserve personnel performing active duty duties will also continue, but inactive duty duties will be canceled.
Only civilian personnel who are “necessary to conduct or support excepted activities” will be able to work after September 30. That means around 357,000 civilian workers, while another 429,000 are said to be put on leave.
Troops on active duty will have the permanent change of station orders delayed until a shutdown is completed. Temporary mission travel and attendance at conferences would be canceled.
Military medical and dental care would continue, along with child care and some other family support activities. But many of these offices could see their hours reduced. The schools of the Ministry of Defense would remain open.
In October 2013, during the government shutdown that lasted 17 days, military death benefits were interrupted by political struggle. But in 2018, lawmakers passed a law allowing these benefits to be paid even if the budget situation is volatile.
Additionally, members of the Coast Guard’s services – whose pay goes through the Department of Homeland Security, not the Pentagon – could also face salary delays, but will remain on duty.
In his memo, Hicks said defense officials hoped that “Congress would quickly pass the annual supply bill” before Thursday night’s deadline.
The full military memo is available on the Ministry of Defense website.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on policies relating to military personnel and veterans. His work has earned him numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.