MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

October 3, 2013

VA Regional Office remains open today

Next week uncertain if shutdown continues

Workers and the clients they serve at the Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Muskogee won a temporary reprieve after learning the facility will continue operations through today.

VA officials had predicted the office would be closed before the end of the week because of a lapse of funding for most government services. They revised that prediction Thursday, saying “normal operations” would continue through today.

“At this time our status has not been fully determined for next week,” said Jacob Nichols, a spokesman for the VA’s local benefits office. “In the event that the regional office is instructed to initiate an orderly shutdown of non-essential operations, we anticipate that the regional office will be closed to the public.”

Nichols said if there is no resolution to the budget battle in Washington and the regional office is forced to close its doors, an organization that represents disabled veterans is preparing to step in and provide backup support.

“To help alleviate the impact to our veterans service organization partners ... and the veterans they serve, the regional office is permitting their mobile units to be set-up in the parking lots of our regional office,” Nichols said. “Veterans (will) have the ability to continue to meet face-to-face with their non-profit service organizations.”

Officials with the Oklahoma chapter of Disabled American Veterans said representatives of the charitable organization “will be fully capable of providing services to our nation’s ill and injured heroes.” Utilizing technology and the organization’s website, the Oklahoma DAV mobile service unit will allow veterans to file benefits claims.

“The government may close its doors, but DAV is going to do everything we can to ensure our nation’s heroes receive the benefits they’ve earned,” DAV Oklahoma Cmdr. Cougar Hammons said in a media release. “We understand the importance of our services because we are an organization of veterans helping veterans.”

Danny Oliver, DAV Oklahoma state adjutant, said from its mobile service unit the organization can help veterans track the status of claims in addition to filing those claims. It also has the capability of tracking benefit awards and the status of appeals.

“Even though the building might be closed the system itself will be open, and we will still be able to give them (veterans) updates,” Oliver said, noting address changes and other information can be updated to ensure the delivery of benefits. “We can do business as usual — it will be slower, but at least they can get real world answers instead of someone saying, “Sorry, we are closed.’”

Oliver said DAV Oklahoma and other veteran service organizations would rather not see a continued government shutdown because it only increases the frustration level of veterans seeking benefits. Those who man the organization’s mobile service unit, Oliver said, can help defuse that by providing a level of continued service.

“The frustration level is high already, and that is compounded when you add these additional stressors,” Oliver said. “We are there to help divert some of that, letting them know they are not alone — we are making the best of a bad situation.”

The VA Regional Office in Muskogee is the largest in the nation and provides jobs for more than 1,300 local workers. As the city’s largest employer, it provides a significant social and economic impact to Oklahoma and serves an estimated 338,700 veterans in the state.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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