McDonough: VA ‘building our lists’ of excepted employees, as government shutdown threat looms

The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing for a potential government shutdown — drawing up a list of which VA employees would be furloughed during a lap...

The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing for a potential government shutdown — drawing up a list of which VA employees would be furloughed during a lapse in appropriations, and which employees would remain on the job.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters Friday that the VA is “building our lists, to make sure we understand with great precision who are what we call excepted employees and who are not.”

McDonough said the VA has not yet begun its outreach to employees about their shutdown work status, but will “continue to closely monitor this situation.”

Federal News Network is answering frequently asked questions about what federal employees need to know about a government shutdown, as well as what happens to furloughed employees in a shutdown. 

Despite the impact on VA employees, McDonough said veterans would see little disruption in VA services during a shutdown.

“In the case of a shutdown, there would be no impact on veteran health care. Burials would continue at VA national cemeteries. VA would continue to process and deliver benefits to veterans, including compensation, pension, education and housing benefits. And the board would continue to process appeals,” McDonough said.

But McDonough said a shutdown would prevent the VA from conducting outreach to veterans, and the department’s public-facing regional offices would be closed. Many of the VA’s services — including career counseling, transition assistance for new veterans leaving military service and VA cemetery grounds maintenance — would also not be available.

“This is why I’ve been saying we need a full-year appropriation, especially at a time when we’re providing more care and more benefits the more vets than ever before. And that’s why we’ve been so supportive of the bipartisan budget agreement that was struck several months ago,” McDonough said.

The White House, as it usually does a week before a potential shutdown, is briefing federal agencies today on how to prepare for a lapse in funding, according to an Office of Management and Budget official who spoke to the Associated Press.

A shutdown would impede VA’s outreach efforts, right as the department is stepping up its efforts to protect veterans from scams.

The VA on Friday launched a new page on its website to keep veterans up to date on how fraudsters are trying to target them and their benefits.

VA Deputy Chief of Staff Maureen Elias said the department is seeing a large increase in unaccredited service representatives charging veterans to file their initial disability claims.

“They’re operating in the grey area, and some of them are charging up to six times whatever that veteran receives,” Elias said.

The department is also monitoring fraudsters who may improperly charge veterans applying for benefits under the toxic-exposure PACT Act.

“We don’t have specific numbers or data on that, but we have received plenty of anecdotal information. Anytime there’s new benefits or new money that’s been allocated to individuals, there’s an opportunity for fraudsters and scammers to come in,” Elias said.

VA’s higher in-office work requirement starts Oct. 8

The VA is also setting a date for employees to come back into the office more regularly.

McDonough said the VA will require its employees in the National Capital Region to return to the office more frequently, starting Oct. 8.

“We’ve been actively working with our workforce talking with our workforce, our managers, supervisors have been working with their teams. That’s all happening, and I’m very proud of the work that’s gone into that.”

The VA announced in May that, under this new policy, employees with telework agreements in the National Capital Region are to work a minimum of five days in the office each two-week pay period.

“VA employees will be expected, in any given pay period, to be in the workspace as often as they are in a flexible space,” McDonough said.

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