Millions of veterans' benefits --$6B worth -- at stake if gov't shutdown continues

Jerry Lauder, an Army veteran, discusses the importance of benefits to vets and what he fears if they are not distributed if the government shutdown continues.

(CBS News) The shutdown is leading to more trouble for those who served in the military. Millions of veterans could stop receiving benefits.

What's happening at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is really a snapshot of the way this shutdown is hurting the nation -- not just the people who work for the government, but also the people who rely on it for assistance, CBS News' Nancy Cordes reported on "CBS This Morning." And, she added, it only gets worse the more time passes.

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U.S. veterans are due $6 billion worth of benefits in November -- checks that won't go out if the government is still shut down. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki says a third of his employees are veterans themselves, facing a double whammy. He said, "If they are furloughed, and they're also recipients of disability checks, their resources go to zero, and then I have the responsibility of trying to figure out how to keep them from becoming homeless."

Jerry Lauder lives just outside San Diego and is an Army veteran who served during the Gulf War. He's no longer able to work and says he relies on the VA for everything, from food to medical care. Lauder said, "Come the first of November, I'm screwed along with a lot of other veterans out here. ... When your day-to-day life depends on what the VA does and what -- what our government does for us you know, that means the world to us. I mean, people are going to lose their homes -- we're all going to be homeless -- the groceries stores don't take IOUs for groceries."

VA hospitals and clinics have remained open during the shutdown. But the design and construction of 33 new facilities is on hold. And VA funding for medical research and prosthetics has been reduced or halted.

House Republicans passed a bill last Thursday to fund the VA, but Senate Democrats, who want the whole government reopened, blocked it. Shinseki argued that simply funding the VA wouldn't fix his problem, because his agency relies on 10 others to help veterans with health care, education, insurance, and housing. Shinseki said, "What is best for veterans and for all of us right now is a budget for the entire federal government -- let us get back to work."

Even before the shutdown, the Department of Veterans Affairs was dealing with a backlog of about 195,000 claims, CBS News' Nancy Cordes reported on "CBS This Morning." Now, with so many VA workers furloughed, Shinseki says that backlog is growing by a couple thousand a week.