A possible government shutdown could have major repercussions for active-duty service members and their families — but it likely wouldn’t be as dire for veterans who rely on education benefits to pay their bills.
At least for now.
In the event that Congress doesn’t agree on a budget by the stroke of midnight tonight, the Veterans Affairs Department has a contingency plan in place for student veterans.
“What that looks like for GI Bill users — there will potentially be no customer service, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get paid, at least in the short term,” said Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for Student Veterans of America. “Certainly for a couple weeks they’ll be in the clear.”
According to information on the VA’s website, the federal agency will continue to process GI Bill benefits, including monthly housing stipends, in the event of a shutdown. However, the administrative branch of the VA that processes the benefits would be understaffed by the thousands, and education call centers and counseling services would be suspended.
“If you’re a GI Bill user, and you have a question — which happens frequently — if you call in, essentially you’re going to get a busy signal,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard said if the shutdown happens, GI Bill payments could continue for another two to three weeks. He doubts the shutdown would last beyond that, but if it does, veterans could find themselves in a tricky spot. In 2013, the government shut down for 16 days.
Navy veteran Alyssa Myner told Military Times she is relieved that the shutdown should not have an immediate impact on her GI Bill benefits, which she uses to attend Liberty University. And she has already received this month’s housing stipend.
“However, I’m worried that if it does extend further than three weeks, I will not be able to continue school because of the lack of funds,” she said, also expressing concern that if the government shuts down, she wouldn’t know whom to contact about the issue with VA call centers down.
Vacant VA counseling and call centers may not matter to veterans who have been in school for a while, said a Marine Corps veteran who attends George Washington University, just miles from where budget discussions have come to a standstill on Capitol Hill. But new student veterans may have questions about their benefits and need VA support, he said.
“If that’s not happening, or if that’s not able to happen, that’s a crisis,” said the veteran, who spoke to Military Times on the condition of anonymity. He said that if the shutdown happens, its timing at the start of a new semester would be especially problematic.
When asked for comment on this story, the VA did not provide information relevant to education benefits by press time.
Myner and the George Washington University student said they have not received information from their schools or the VA on what to do in case of a shutdown.
“I think my school’s administration is just waiting to see exactly what happens,” the George Washington student said.
“I think even just pulling it out of the student veterans perspective, just as an American citizen, it’s just quite concerning at how partisan these sorts of issues have become,” he said.