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Shinseki: Shutdown Means Veterans Will Not Get Benefits

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki warned lawmakers on Wednesday that the partial government shutdown means that about 3.8 million veterans will not receive disability compensation next month.

Shinseki, in testimony before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said pensions to more than half a million vets or surviving spouses will also be derailed if the stalemate over a temporary spending measure drags on into late October.

The Associated Press reports:

"Shinseki drew comparisons to the last shutdown in 1996, a time of sustained peace. The current shutdown occurs as the war in Afghanistan is in its 13th year and as hundreds of thousands have returned from Iraq. They are enrolling in VA care at higher rates than previous generations of veterans.

" 'They, along with the veterans of every preceding generation, will be harmed if the shutdown continues,' Shinseki said."

Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican chairman of the committee, questioned whether the administration had given accurate and complete information to veterans as to the full impact of the shutdown.

"We've had some difficulty in the last couple of weeks getting good information about VA's contingency plan and the effects a lapse in appropriation would have on veterans," he said.

Shinseki told the committee that the VA had planned for an orderly shutdown but that "unprecedented legal and programmatic questions" have arisen.

Update At 1:30 p.m. EDT. White House To 'Fix' Death Benefit Problem

After much criticism from Republican lawmakers over the halting of emergency benefits to families of service members killed, press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday that the president has directed lawyers at the Defense Department and White House budget office to find an immediate legal fix for paying death benefits.

"When [the president] found out that this was not addressed he directed that a solution be found and we expect one today," Carney said.

NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman says 26 service members have died since the shutdown began, six of them in Afghanistan, but unless the issue is resolved, their families will not receive the $100,000 death benefit owed them.

The death gratuity is usually paid within three days, Bowman says.

Officials say four of the servicemen died in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan on Sunday. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is traveling to Dover Air Force Base on Wednesday for the arrival of their remains.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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