Government shutdown puts thousands of SF veterans' benefits at risk

Veterans stand to lose if the government shutdown continues
Photo courtesy of Bobby Hollingsworth
Bobby Hollingsworth, a CID investigator for the US Army, poses for a photo while deployed in Korea. Hollingsworth is one of thousands of Bay Area veterans who may lose out on benefits.

More than 7,000 employees in Veterans Benefits Administration offices nationwide were furloughed today (Tues/8), the newest casualty of the federal government shutdown.

As the Republicans in Washington hold the nation hostage over President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, federal employees are leaving their offices in droves. Now the veterans who rely on the federal government for healthcare and education checks have nothing to do but wait on word of their uncertain futures. 

The furlough of veterans benefits workers comes at an especially awful time as they struggle to meet an enormous backlog of health benefit claims, revealed this year by the Berkeley-based Center for Investigative Reporting.

“VA’s ability to make significant progress reducing the disability claims backlog is hampered without the increased productivity gained from overtime for claims processors,” the Veterans Benefits Administration said in a statement released today. The agency has reduced the disability claims backlog by more than 190,000 claims over the last six months, it wrote.  

But even worse, it said that if the government shutdown persists into late October there would be no funding available to supply veterans with their November support checks -- money many rely on for rent and food.

"In the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted," the office wrote in a release.

San Francisco has veterans of many stripes who depend on federal benefits: Students paying tuition, ex-soldiers getting housing benefits, the disabled seeking health care, all would be left without support.

The loss can be felt keenly at City College of San Francisco, where the employees of its pioneering Veterans’ Resource Center wait in fear of Nov. 1. 

 “With the government shutdown we’re going to have a massive amount of people coming in asking questions,” said Adam Harris, a student worker at CCSF’s Veterans’ Resource Center. The 25-year-old is a veteran himself, and served in the Navy for six years as a petty officer second class in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay.  

“If people aren’t paid on the first when they’re expected to you get a wave of people asking ‘where’s my money at?’” he said. The GI Bill pays for full tuition for student veterans who have completed their service, and those still serving. But it’s not just tuition. 

“It’s pretty much a living allowance,” he said. In addition to tuition the the GI Bill pays for housing, food and living expenses. City College of San Francisco alone has over 1,200 student veterans according to their own data, many of whom attend full time. 

The state community college chancellor’s office, which oversees California’s 112 community colleges, said the loss of benefits would be dire for its student veterans.

“Should this come about, our student veterans would be left without education benefits and basic housing allowances,” said Paul Feist, a spokesperson for the Community College Chancellor’s office.  “It’s probably safe to assume that many student veterans would be forced to drop out of school should this occur.”

They noted that the VA's educational benefits hotline is inaccessible during the government shutdown, cutting off a vital counseling service as student veterans navigate their tuition payments.

The CA Community College Chancellor's Office most recent data shows that as of the 2011-12 school year, there were over 44,000 community college student veterans receiving benefits statewide, many of whom are in the Bay Area. All would be affected. 

Rachel Maddow announcing the shutdown of veteran benefits offices, which give advice and aid for veterans seeking help with their education, lhousing and health benefits.

Student at the state level colleges will fare no better, though, and there are just over 700 student veterans at San Francisco State University, according to their website. The head of SFSU’s veterans center, Rogelio Manaois, said that his office was sending regular updates to SFSU students and that they were prepared for the possible delay of benefits.

Notably not all veterans depend on the GI Bill to live. Some vets the Guardian spoke to at City College said that they had part time jobs and would not be in hardship if there were a drop in payments. Also, the VA Medical Center in the Outer Richmond announced on its website that it will not be affected by the government shutdown. Not all veterans are in the same boat, however.

Bobby Hollingsworth served as a Criminal Investigations Divisions investigator in the US Army from 1999 to 2010. Though he’s now a graduate of SFSU, he and his family depend on disability payments from the VA to live. 

Hollingsworth injured his his leg in basic training, and the repeated stress through the years required multiple surgeries that he never fully recovered from. His disability payments also cover PTSD, as through his decade of service he spent over a year listening to the explosions of mortar shells peppering his Containerized Housing Unit in Iraq. 

He remembers those days vividly.

“I heard commotion and opened my door and looked up and to the side of our CHU’s. The sky was lit up like a scene in Star Wars” he said. “We got hit with seven mortars that night and a few airmen were rushed to the hospital with unknown injuries. We just never really followed up on those things. At the time maybe we thought best not to know.”

To say he earned his benefits is an understatement, he said, and the same goes for all of his fellow Veterans. 

As a documentary filmmaker, he is investigating other Veterans who have been denied their education benefits. Now the government shutdown may delay Hollingsworth’s payments as well. 

His wife depends on them for college, he said, and without his disability payments he may be unable to make his first mortgage payment on their new house. His wife and four-year-old son will be fine for now, he said, but if the payments are delayed for long he’ll be worried.

“I can hold out for a month because of emergency savings and the food bank,” he said. “But by December, it will be a nightmare.”

Yesterday the VA posted their "Veterans Field Guide to Government Shutdown," which can be read here.  


PIECEMEAL NEWS ALERT: Shutdown is hurting veterans.

This news will prompt Boehner and his dirty-thirty House Republicans to try to win some points by voting for a piecemeal funding of these veterans and their families. This is a bit of a change from the Founder Fathers Declaration of Independence which with the following insertions will read:

“We (House Republicans) hold these truths to be self-evident (and what we say they are), that all men are created equal (but some we recognize as more equal if it look good for us), that they are endowed by their Creator (as we see what is good for us) with certain unalienable (negotiable by us) Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (if we say so).--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men (or shutdown by us), deriving their just powers (expedient manipulation by us) from the consent of the governed (which means the 30 of us Republicans in the House).” ~ Per July 4, 1776 as amended by the dirty thirty Republicans this 2nd week of shutdown.

Posted by Sam Osborne on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

the national debt crisis that threatens us all with oblivion.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

They don't need to sacrifice. *We* need to be sacrificed *to* them, so that they can have more. More!!! MOAR!!!

As for "oblivion," that's some pretty outrageous hyperbole. "Debt crisis"? We have an inequality crisis. We have a healthcare crisis. We have a housing crisis, at least in this city. I could care less about the "debt crisis," whatever the hell that is. Climate change, OTOH... now there's something that really does threaten us with oblivion.

Posted by Greg on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

even while government services get closed down and people get laid off all around you.

No entity can spend a trillion dollars more each year than it takes in without something eventually going horribly wrong.

Everything else is fluff compared with that specter, and that is why the GOP are bravely drawing a line in the sand - because the Dem's refuse to acknowledge any problem at all.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 6:41 am

We're much wealthier as a nation -even on a per capita basis -than we were 40 years ago. But our people are poorer. Our standard of living is worse. It's not for lack of wealth. It's about screwed up priorities. We know where the money is. It's been concentrating in one place for 40 years. We just need the political will to get it.

Posted by Greg on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 8:24 am

parents or most people 40 years ago, even discounting the fact that gadgets and appliances today are far superior.

You make another mistake as well i.e. assuming that the amount of wealth is fixed and all that matters is how it is distributed. The real point is that we have much lower taxes than 40 years ago, and that has created massive amounts of prosperity that we all share in thru better jobs and mutual funds.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

parents or most people 40 years ago, even discounting the fact that gadgets and appliances today are far superior.

You make another mistake as well i.e. assuming that the amount of wealth is fixed and all that matters is how it is distributed. The real point is that we have much lower taxes than 40 years ago, and that has created massive amounts of prosperity that we all share in thru better jobs and mutual funds.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

comment with fantasy about how you want the world to be or have been conditioned to believe rather than actually how it is.

Statistics on wealth, income, inequality exist. Maybe you should check them out. Maybe on one of your gadgets or appliances.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

While I offered at least prima facie anecdotal evidence that he is 100% wrong.

Oh, and inequality has little to do with wealth. Most people can be richer even when (or even because) inequality has grown.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

that the hundreds of billions in defense department dollars that the Obama administration is abjectly wasting on pointless wars and occupations in the middle east and central asia, might have a little do with why veterans services are not funded properly?

Posted by racer x on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

And when even Obama - the most left-wing president the US has ever had, is engaging in wars with a Nobel Peace prize under his belt, then you can bet the American public support the war on terror.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

that doesn't obviate the fact that funding for veterans programs is far too low and would be far higher if we were spending defense dollars on veterans, instead of spending them on new and endless wars that simply create more injured veterans who inevitably get shafted on services

Posted by racer x on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

spend less on VA because less military folks would need VA services.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

i would just add to this that, of what we do spend right now, we need to shift it, and spend vastly more of it on veterans services in order to clean up the mess we have already made of hundreds of thousands of lives

Posted by racer x on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

You get what you deserve by voting for the corrupt Democrats and rebublicans owned and operated by the corporate oligarchs instead of voting for the Justice party candidates or green party candidates.


Posted by Guest on Oct. 14, 2013 @ 4:50 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 14, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

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