WASHINGTON—Thousands of federal workers were furloughed today after lawmakers were unable to agree on a spending bill for the federal government by Monday night.
Calling it “one more blow to the morale of our civilian workers,” DoD Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert F. Hale had warned last week that in the event of a government shutdown about half of DoD’s civilian workforce would go onto a nonpaid furlough status.
“That morale is already low and I think it would get lower,” he said of the impending shutdown last week.
He explained that all military personnel would be directed to remain on normal duty status and that DoD civilian workers who support “excepted” activities would be directed to continue to work, but all other civilian workers would be put on furlough.
“Excepted” activities that are protected in the event of a shutdown he said include activities like maintaining emergency services such as police, fire, and emergency medical activities.
Hale further explained that during the lapse of funding, DoD cannot pay military and civilian employees even if they are directed to work, but that they would be paid retroactively when Congress passes an appropriations bill. Non-excepted civilians who are put on furlough would only be paid if a law is enacted allowing DoD to pay them.
Preparing for Shutdown
A guidance issued to DoD leaders last week to help them determine what activities can continue in the absence of appropriations outlined medical activities that would be considered excepted. Some of these activities included inpatient care in DoD MTFs and attendant maintenance of patient medical records; acute and emergency outpatient care in DoD medical and dental facilities and private sector care under Tricare. In addition, suicide and substance abuse counseling would continue as usual. Elective surgery and other elective procedures in DoD medical and dental facilities are not considered excepted activities.
Though health care services will continue, the Defense Health Agency warned patients today that as a result of the shutdown there will likely be “some impact on the delivery of health care services within our military hospitals and clinics.”
“Inpatient, acute and emergency outpatient care in our medical and dental facilities will continue, as will private sector care under TRICARE. Local hospital and clinic commanders will need to implement the required adjustments to available medical services while ensuring that the quality of care and safety of patients remain intact,” a DHA written statement explained. “Patients should contact their hospital or clinic to confirm previously scheduled routine appointments. Patients needing to schedule new routine appointments might experience delays. For TRICARE beneficiaries using providers in the private sector, little or no effect is anticipated at this time.”
When it comes to VA, while medical services were expected to continue to operate normally, lawmakers and organizations have been warning in recent days that a government shutdown could further slow down benefits claims processing.
The VA released a field guide on its website for a government shutdown that stated that pension claims processing and payments would continue in the event of a shutdown. However, it further explained that “in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted.”