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Soldiers, veterans in El Paso among those to be impacted by possible government shutdown

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Monday, September 30, 2013 - 8:56am

All eyes are on Washington once again as a possible government shutdown is only hours away. Congress has until midnight to find a way to bridge differences over healthcare reform and other issues.

A government shutdown would impact 800,000 federal employees, about 40-percent of the federal workforce. It would also mean delayed paychecks for America's 1.4 million troops and their families, and payments could stop for veterans who receive disability payments.

The Senate returns Monday afternoon, but is likely to reject the offer on the table. Republicans said they will fund the government and prevent a shutdown only if the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is delayed a year. Some Democrats said they will consider getting rid of a tax on medical devices. President Obama has threatened to veto any changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Democratic leaders want a House vote on the Senate's funding bill that leaves Obamacare out of the mix.

Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who is in Washington, said he is working with both parties to reach a deal so that active soldiers at Fort Bliss and Veterans in El Paso do not lose their paychecks.

"If the government shuts down, you would have the richest, most powerful country in the world unable to pay its soldiers on time, unable to fully support veterans that have stood up for this country in times of war, going all the way back to WWII," said O'Rourke via a telephone interview.

As we reported last week, O'Rourke said if a shutdown happens and federal employees in El Paso are not paid, he will return his pay.

According to CNN, the Republican-controlled house passed a measure to keep paying the troops in a shutdown. The Senate has yet to act.

The shutdown could also stop payments for the 3 million veterans who receive disability payments. New claims for disability won't be processed, and current payments might still arrive late.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said Saturday that if a government shutdown occurs, and lasts at least a month, not all compensation and pension payments would continue.

"Those benefits are provided through appropriated mandatory funding, and that funding will run out by late October. At that point, VA will be unable to make any payments," spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said in a statement to CNN.

Dillon said the agency has excepted certain workers, meaning they can work if there is a shutdown. That means claims can be processed and beneficiaries can receive payments during a shutdown that lasts less than a month.

Among the benefits in question would be disability and GI Bill payments.

"I'm working really hard with members of both parties to prevent a government shutdown from happening. The best way to do that is to pass a spending bill that has no strings attached, that funds the government and ensures that were supporting or soldiers, our veterans, our Border Patrol/CBP officers, everyone who provides critical federal services to our community and to the country," said O'Rourke.

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