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Without a Budget Deal, Veterans Bracing for Cuts

Many military veterans living in Texas have one source of income: their benefit checks from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. If the government shutdown persists, such payments could be suspended when funds run dry.

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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. 

“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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