San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
Hays County Veterans Services Officer Jude Prather leads a rally under Texas State University's fighting stallions sculpture on Friday urging Congress to preserve veterans benefits, including monthly housing subsidies provided under the G.I. Bill for some of the 2,000-plus U.S. military veterans enrolled at the university. The U.S. House has passed continuing resolutions restoring funding for veterans programs despite the larger government shutdown; the U.S. Senate has declined to act on the legislation. COURTESY PHOTO

Hays County Veterans Services Officer Jude Prather leads a rally under Texas State University’s fighting stallions sculpture on Friday urging Congress to preserve veterans benefits, including monthly housing subsidies provided under the G.I. Bill for some of the 2,000-plus U.S. military veterans enrolled at the university. The U.S. House has passed continuing resolutions restoring funding for veterans programs despite the larger government shutdown; the U.S. Senate has declined to act on the legislation. COURTESY PHOTO

by ALANA ROCHA

As the impasse over the federal government shutdown in Washington, D.C., enters its third week, Tara Plybon, the wife of a National Guard veteran, is starting to ration her family’s money.

By the numbers

11,086

Number of U.S. military veterans who lived in Hays County in 2011.

$60.4 million

Value of benefits to Hays County veterans and their families in 2011, including compensation and pensions; medical care; insurance; loan guaranties; and veteran housing construction.

123,861

Number of veterans in Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop, Travis, Burnett and Williamson counties, the six members of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

$2.2 billion

Value of annual benefits to Austin region veterans.

Source: Hays County Veterans Service Office, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

“I guess when you deal with trauma, you learn to just take things with a grain of salt,” said Plybon, of Taylor. “Try not to freak out and spend wisely.”

Plybon has endured much scarier things than a federal government shutdown that puts veterans benefits at risk. In 2009, her husband, Todd, nearly died from injuries he suffered in an improvised explosive device blast while serving in Afghanistan.

Four years later, the disability checks Todd receives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are the family’s lifeblood.

“I have no idea how it’s going to go,” Tara said.

According to the VA, claims processing and payments for compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are expected to continue through late October. But in the event of a prolonged shutdown, such payments could be suspended when existing funds dry up.

“For some of these guys, that’s their only income,” said Sean Hanna, state coordinator for the Military Veteran Peer Network, an organization that supports veterans nationally. “So if they don’t get that, it’s an absolute financial crisis for them.”

The Veterans Crisis Line, a phone hotline, has remained staffed and in service throughout the shutdown, though a handful of other hotlines went offline. Interments at national cemeteries have continued, but on a reduced schedule. Job training for disabled vets and education counseling has been limited.

“I am a college student on the GI Bill, and if [the shutdown continues] it’s going to directly effect our family,” said Bryan Escobedo, a senior communications major at the University of Houston.

Escobedo is one of the 773,000 veterans nationally receiving financial support for education and housing under the GI Bill. With the lingering government shutdown, Escobedo wonders whether he’ll be able to finish out the semester.

“We’re all biting our nails here, but I have faith in the government,” Escobedo said. “They’re not stupid enough to piss off that many people.”

John Kessler, executive director of the Houston-based Lone Star Veterans Association, said that if the federal government doesn’t extend that entitlement into November, colleges will have to decide whether to let veteran students finish out the semester.

Kessler, whose organization acts as a career, education and benefits resource, said his staff is watching and waiting to see what happens with budget negotiations while still fielding veterans’ questions about how they might be affected.

“I hope that they do reach an agreement,” he said. “But if they don’t, the impact to the thousands of veterans who have served honorably and fulfilled their part of the contract to serve our country — it’s kind of in a way defaulting on our veterans.”

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ALANA ROCHA reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

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11 thoughts on “Without a budget deal, veterans bracing for November

  1. Let’s do the numbers …

    There are about 35,000 students at Texas State, and – per courtesy photo – 2,0000 enrolled veterans, which makes about 17 students per veteran. Let each student invite a veteran twice a month for lunch or dinner, and they are at least fed. “Donate” some of top of that, and it gets them through the month, and it won’t even hurt. How can Americans raise millions of Dollars after a (natural) disaster strikes anywhere in the world, but not take care of their people next door when Washington strikes?

    Next: How many veterans are there in San Marcos? Maybe the city or other neutral legal entity can initiate an emergency fund that people can donate to, and then the funds can be distributed to the local veterans. Well done, this may even serve as an example for other cities.

    Let’s not look to Washington, wait, and whine. Let’s fix it, here and now, locally.

  2. Your comment was excellent – well thought out, reasonable, and presents a great solution to a pending problem.

    It clearly does not belong on the internet.

  3. Here’s another scenario for Gabi to consider:
    What if your employer decided that he just couldn’t pay you for the work you had already accomplished. It’s not that he really doesn’t have the money – or couldn’t get if if he were so obliged. It’s just that he has been so busy fighting with his wife that you and your payment for work already done – just isn’t really a priority.
    His solution to your immediate need for food and shelter is to suggest you just go and have dinner with your “friends” until he gets his act together with his wife.

    So Gabi – would you “whine” about that?

    We’re not talking welfare recipients here Gabi. We’re talking about the men and women who put their lives on the line for you!

    So, Gabi – how many veterans have you invited over for dinner lately?

  4. I would say that Gabi was far more constructive than Lila. Lila ignored the argument and attacked the arguer in her trademark shrill manner, after some ridiculous false parallel about domestic violence.

    It struck me the same as Gabi when I read it. Yes, there is a problem, but they gather for attention instead of looking to be the solution. That is not in any way to diminish their service or to say that the GI Bill is an unwarranted subsidy; it is just to say gathering with pleas of helplessness is not the most productive way forward. Let’s solve the problem, instead of looking for a camera.

  5. To Lila:

    I enjoyed your example with the employing husband and wife scenario. Very fitting for Washington! However, as others already commented, that’s not to the point we are discussing.

    I also do not think of welfare, but appreciation, when I propose to help the veterans in their current situation, and there is a two part answer to it. First, I absolutely honor what those men and women – and their families! – do for this country. Despite all the “politics” around them, you still see them serve with dedication and success. I have the highest respect for that. My children walk up to veterans when they see them and thank them for their service. Without what they have been and are doing … you and I might not be able to sit here and write all these comments. Secondly, we need to stop looking to Washington for help. Yes, they are screwing around with our money, but that doesn’t mean that we have to feed that bad habit. Let’s be people again like those who came here a few centuries ago. Helping each other as needed locally. And leave the “big stuff” that cannot be done locally to Washington.

    Lastly, I don’t need a government shutdown to show my appreciation for veterans. Here is how I invite veterans to lunch or dinner, and I would like to encourage you to try it: Next time when you go out for lunch or dinner and see a veteran, go to the cashier and pay for the veterans meal in secret. It works most of the times.

  6. Now LILA showed us what the internet is about! In a single post, she avoided the topic; drew a false equivalency to “support” her “argument”; engaged in ad hominem attacks against another poster (one who dared advance a solution); and finally, just for good measure, she failed to offer any solutions of her own.

    Congratulations, Lila Knight – you have won the internet today! Your reward is a new home on the lot next door to the truck stop on Yarrington Road…..

  7. So sorry to have offended my neighbors to the south.
    But I still stand by my belief that we should support our Veterans and the obligations we made to them. As a country.

  8. Is Jude Prather up for reelection? Oh, wait he is! Not sure how I feel about a bureaucrat using his paid position (from tax dollars) as a platform for an election. Lots of people work for veterans, for free, who don’t post daily on their Facebook page, “I helped X number of veterans today.” I fell his actions as a County employee is distasteful and unethical. Just my opinion.

  9. Truth be told this non partisan rally was preformed off the clock, was meant to inform the Veterans that the official word from the VA was Nov 1 benefits where suspended due to the shutdown, and while I am at it there has been several other veterans stories in the media recently which I have requested not to be included because of my election

  10. By that standard, any politician would be discouraged from doing anything for any sort of charity or supporting any sort of cause.

    Do politicians get (and yes, even seek) a PR benefit from doing such things? Sure they do. But they also have the “bully pulpit” that they can bring to the cause, which is beneficial as well.

    Few enough people care enough to actually step up to the plate for causes anymore that we can’t afford to humbug away the ones who do just because we happen to be on the other side of the political fence from them.

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