Muskogee Veterans Affairs Regional Office closes, halts non-essential activity as shutdown drags on

MUSKOGEE, Okla. - The Muskogee Veterans Affairs Regional Office succumbed to the effects of the federal shutdown Monday, closing all operations deemed non-essential.

The regional office, which is home to the VA's only call center responsible for responding to education benefits inquiries, closed to the public Monday afternoon. The call center is also expected to close in conjunction with the shutdown.

According to Jacob Nichols with the office of the director, the Muskogee VA Regional Office is the biggest of the VA's 56 regional offices. More than 1,300 are employed at the office, which has an annual payroll of $105 million.

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Nichols says claims processing and payments in compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs will continue through the end of October. If the shutdown continues, however, claims processing and payments in the aforementioned programs would stop when funding runs out. 

Health care services will remain open and funded through September 2014.

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Oklahoma veterans and their dependents receive more than $1.3 billion in disability compensation and pension benefits and more than $121 million in education and vocational rehabilitation benefits, said Nichols.

Thomas Adams, one of more than 340,000 Oklahoma veterans, didn't mince words Monday about recent congressional inactivity.

"Congress needs to get off their duff and at least start talking about it ... I think they ought to be worried about their jobs because I think the American people are getting a little upset with them," said Adams.

And Adams is well aware that if the shutdown persists through October, he and his fellow veterans might not receive crucial disability checks.

"That pays the rent. That buys the food," said Adams. "That pays the truck payment, buys the gas, everything."

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