How a government shutdown could affect troops, veterans, and their families

How a government shutdown could affect troops, veterans, and their families
About the Author

Gina Harkins is MOAA's Senior Staff Writer. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at: @ginaaharkins.

FEMA/Bill Koplitz Photo by Bill Koplitz

Congress has three more days to pass a budget to fund federal programs through the rest of FY 2017 before portions of the government begin shutting down on Saturday. 

The continuing resolution that's keeping many government programs funded will expire April 28. That means lawmakers have until Friday at midnight to agree on a budget deal to keep things running through the remaining five months of the fiscal year.

If Congress can't agree on a deal, troops, veterans, and their families could face a government shutdown similar to the one they experienced in 2013. A shutdown could leave some DoD personnel without paychecks and access to some on-base services. 

Military officials were bracing for a shutdown in December before Congress passed legislation funding the government through Friday. Here's a look at how a shutdown might affect things like military operations, pay, and access to medical care. 

Who's on duty? All military personnel remain on active duty during government shutdowns, continuing to carry out their normal roles. Before the December shutdown was averted, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work sent a memo explaining that active-duty troops' duties would not be affected if some portions of the government closed.

 That's not true for all civilian DoD employees though. Only those whose roles “are necessary to carry out or support expected activities” would be asked to come to work. The rest would be furloughed, meaning they'd be placed in a nonwork, nonpaid status.  

Troops' pay. Military personnel and civilian DoD employees shouldn't expect to get a paycheck during a government shutdown - even if they're showing up for duty every day. During the 2013 shutdown, which lasted for more than two weeks, Congress passed legislation that allowed uniformed personnel to receive their paychecks during the shutdown. But that doesn't always happen. 

“In case of a potential government shutdown, the Department of Defense has no legal authority to pay any personnel - military or civilian - for the days during which the government is shut down,” the Defense Finance and Accounting Service website states. 

In 2013, civilian employees who were furloughed weren't paid during the shutdown. Congress later approved back pay for those workers. 

Retirees' checks. A government shutdown won't affect payments for retirees or those receiving annuities, like surviving spouses who are paid under the Survivor Benefit Plan, said Steve Burghardt, a spokesman for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

Those funds come from a military retirement trust fund, he said. They're not based on the Continuing Resolution Act appropriations, so the payments continue as scheduled. 

Training and operations. The fight against the Islamic State group or other overseas operations won't stop with a government shutdown. 

“The Department will, of course, continue to prosecute the war in Afghanistan and ongoing operations against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, including preparation of forces for deployment into those conflicts,” Work wrote in his December memo.

Medical care. Servicemembers and their families should still be able to get medical and dental care at on-base facilities even if the government shuts down. They also can seek private-sector care using TRICARE, according to Work's December memo. 

Elective surgeries or procedures, however, could be postponed or rescheduled. 

And while some Veterans Affairs employees could be furloughed, most of the department's facilities and clinics remain fully functional during government shutdowns, according to a VA memo on the topic. Access to in- and outpatient care, prescriptions, surgeries, and mental health appointments likely won't be interrupted. 

Some VA hotlines, websites, and claims processes could slow or stop in the event of a government shutdown. 

Base services. Morale, welfare, and recreation-related activities are likely to continue if they support military missions. That means mess halls, physical training centers, and childcare activities will remain running if they're required for readiness, the December memo states. 

If civilian employees who run those facilities or programs are furloughed, though, uniformed personnel will be reassigned to carry out the duties. 

As for families with an upcoming permanent change of station, some moves may be limited in the case of a government shutdown. Troops should check with their commands to make sure everything is still on schedule. 

Gina Harkins can be reached Follow her on Twitter:@ginaaharkins


Join Today

Not a member of MOAA? When you join MOAA, you become part of the strongest advocate for our military's personnel and their families. The stronger our membership is, the stronger our voice becomes. Consider joining today because every voice counts.