Government shutdown may affect student veteran services


Shelby Tauber

Mathematics sophomore Daniel Penuelaz is one of 809 veterans on campus that could be affected by the government shutdown. As a husband and father of two children in San Antonio, Penuelaz relies heavily on his benefits for his education and to travel back home to his family every other weekend.

Nicole Cobler

UT student veterans, who would normally receive $1 million in federal money Nov. 1 for veterans’ disability and educational benefits, may not receive the payment because of the government shutdown.

Across campus, the shutdown has closed the LBJ Library and threatens research grants. Now, student veterans may see an impact as the office awaits the sum of money that usually arrives at the beginning of every month.

The government shutdown — now in its third week — could suspend claim processing for different veterans benefits, as well as surviving spouses and dependents. This includes halting compensation payments for more than 5.1 million veterans, Eric Shinseki, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said before the House Committee on Veteran Affairs Wednesday.

Each of the 600 students using these benefits on campus receive between $200 and $2,000 a month, said Ben Armstrong, director of Student Veteran Services.

“Although we are not required to do anything as an institution, we realize that this money is very important to our students,” Armstrong said. “Some of them may not be able to pay their bills or even get to class. We are working to find what abilities we have in order to help these students.”

Student Veteran Services has been in contact with the Office of Financial Aid, Office of the Registrar and the Office of Accounting to see what steps would be taken if these students did not receive their money.

Jamie Brown, communications coordinator at the Office of Student Financial Services, said there is no set plan, but there will be a meeting later this week to discuss available options.

“Generally, we’re going to work with these students on an individual basis and help them as we would any student in an emergency situation,” Brown said.

Armstrong said 55 percent of these student veterans are 25 to 30 years old, and 18 percent are 31 to 35 years old, many of whom have families that rely on them.

Mathematics sophomore Daniel Penuelaz returned from duty almost four years ago and decided to go back to school because of the post-9/11 GI Bill that would pay for most of his education and housing.

As a husband and father of two children in San Antonio, Penuelaz said he relies heavily on his benefits to afford an education at his “dream school” and to travel back home to his family every other weekend.

“The benefit I get usually covers the housing I receive,” Penuelaz said. “I use that money to pay for all the bills of the house. If I don’t get that check, my family is in trouble because we use my housing allowance to pay for a majority of the bills.”

Out of the 2,000 people receiving benefits on campus, only 809 are veterans. The rest are surviving children, wives or husbands of wartime veterans.

Jeremiah Gunderson, coordinator of Student Veteran Services, said the impact is noticeable in his office. Even Gunderson will be affected directly by the shutdown because he receives veteran disability benefits every month.

About 3.8 million wounded U.S. veterans could potentially not receive disability checks, which they get based on mental and physical wounds from combat.

“Their future is kind of in the hands of a bunch of people who seem a million miles away, and they don’t have any say in it,” Gunderson said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Clarification: Federal money is distributed directly to student veterans and not UT Student Veterans Services.

Correction: There are 600 student veterans on campus.