Government shutdown could close Muskogee VA

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Reported by: Price McKeon
Updated: 10/02/2013 5:13 pm Published: 10/02/2013 5:05 pm

Right now, 95 percent of employees with the Veterans Administration are still working, but that may not be the case soon in Muskogee.

If Congress does not pass a budget then hundreds of workers at the city's largest employer may not get paychecks.

A spokesperson for Muskogee's Veteran Affairs regional office told FOX23 an orderly shutdown could begin Monday.

"They served our country, they paid for, you know they paid up front," said Paul Wekenmann.

That's why this office is so important, not just to Muskogee, but all veterans, said Wekenmann. He's a veteran himself and he's an officer for the nonprofit Disabled American Veterans so he personally understands.

"Each of us that works for the Disabled American Veterans are disabled veterans ourselves," he said.

This VA regional office in Muskogee is the largest employer in the area. FOX23 learned the annual payroll is more than a $100 million. That payroll is money that pumps into the local economy.

Veterans go there for disability compensation, vocational rehab, and educational benefits. But with Congress unable to pass a budget, prompting a government shutdown, this office may have to close its doors to the public as early as Monday.

FOX23 has been on and off the phone throughout the day trying to find out the number of employees that will be impacted at this office by the government shutdown.

They said the number is unknown right now because it's an evolving situation.

Claims will still be processed because that's considered a mission essential job, one that won't be furloughed.

FOX23 found out the government shutdown won't shut down the Disabled American Veterans nonprofit.

"Men and women that served our nation shouldn't fall victim to our Congress," said Wekenmann.

They're setting up a mobile unit on Friday in the office's parking lot. The unit is fully functional. It has computers, internet and WiFi to help veterans access benefits he said they already earned.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs told FOX23 it has the funds to ensure payments to veterans and their dependents in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs through late October.

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