Here's how a shutdown will uproot military and vet education benefits

Matt Saintsing
January 18, 2018 - 3:31 pm
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Photo By Nell King/DIVIDS

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With the deadline to fund the federal government ending tomorrow, there is a very real possibility that the there could, yet again, be another shutdown. And, while the "Pay our Military Act" ensured paychecks were cut to those serving in uniform during the last shutdown in 2013, tuition assistance and other educational programs felt its full force.

Since tuition assistance is a DoD benefit for service members, veterans won’t be impacted. Only uniformed service members could expect to be affected.

“Based on what happened in 2013, TA benefits will not be paid at all, they will stop paying TA benefits if the government shuts down,” says Army veteran Keith Hauk, Associate Vice President for Veterans Initiatives and Military Support University of Maryland University College.

“Assuming that happens, it’ll really puts service members using TA in a bind.”

During the 2013 shutdown more than 350 students that used tuition assistance dropped their courses, just from UMUC alone. That’s because if tuition assistance payments aren’t processed, they’ll have to pay the cost of the course out-of-pocket or incur debt to cover the fees.

But, there is another not-so-great option.

If they've met the three-year requirement to begin using GI Bill benefits, they can pay for the course that way. But, Mr. Houck sees that as problematic.

“We expect large segments of the VA will be effected if the government shuts down, in terms of furloughed employees,” he says. “That will slow down processing times for VA educational benefits.”

Burning through their GI Bill benefits in response to a government shutdown is a terrible financial decision, according to Mr. Hauk since GI Bill recipients only have 36-months of benefits once you start using the post-9/11 GI Bill. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

If and when the government shuts down, processing of tuition assistance applications will stop, as it did in 2013. “The processing stopped because the workforce who handles that in either DoD, or the individual services, because they were all civilians and they were furloughed,” adds Mr. Hauk.

What about GI Bill Benefits?

Payment processing are also stopped in the event of a shutdown, even for veterans using GI Bill benefits. In 2013, payments were made, but were far past their due dates.

UMUC was able to shield every student impacted by the last shutdown, so no one was mailed a late-payment notice. That was an initiative within UMUC, and veterans shouldn’t count on the same treatment elsewhere.

One unintended consequence of the last shutdown was that uniformed service members who were trying to further their career by receiving an education walked away from school after their payments weren’t processed.

Mr. Hauk emphasizes that active duty military personnel do have access to on-base education center employees.

“I don’t know what will happen to those people if there’s a shutdown, because they're government civilian employees that’ll probably get furloughed, but I would encourage military students who are using TA to the extent they possibly can, go find somebody to talk to, whether it’s an education services specialist, or coordinator on base, find someone to help you navigate their way through the problem,” he says.

“I’d hate to see someone make a poor decision because they didn’t have all the information available to them.”