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Student Vets Worry About Tuition Payments Amid Shutdown

Courtesy of HUMV/Sarah Koopai
University of Washington ROTC's Veterans Day 2012 ceremony.

For Tom Jenkins, a senior at the University of Washington and a veteran of the Air Force, the partial government shutdown has caused double stress: He has been furloughed from his part-time job as a reservist, and he may not receive veteran’s benefits.

“I’m double-dipping on the stress, as it were,” he told The Record’s Steve Scher.

He’s not alone: Some of his classmates worry that money from Veterans Affairs won't arrive in time to pay for their tuition. The shutdown has also put other federal benefits at risk, including education stipends that veterans qualify for under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. That money goes toward tuition, housing, books and supplies. 

Jenkins, who was in the Air Force from 2004 to 2011, is currently a reservist for the Navy. He estimates that his monthly living stipend plus Reserve salary constitutes 60 percent of his monthly income. If a resolution is not reached in Washington, D.C., by Nov. 1, he will not receive his benefits. About 700 students at the University of Washington Seattle campus would also not receive federal money, Jenkins said.

The UW has assured those students that they will not be held accountable if Veterans Affairs is late with tuition payments. Jenkins said a short-term loan program at the UW would carry no interest or processing fees for veteran students, but of course that comes at a cost.

“If 700 students all applied for the maximum benefit of $2,500, that translates to a huge number for the University to try to support,” Jenkins said.

J.P. Underhill, also a veteran and student at UW, explained how stressful the situation is day-to-day for people in his position.

People go around living their life with no worries, they just don’t know what’s going on. “Oh yeah, parks are closed so I can’t go to the World War II museum or I can’t hunt on public land” – that’s their biggest problem. But for veterans, it’s “How do I pay for my apartment? How do I pay tuition?” It’s bad because you’re in this state of unknown so you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t where you’re going to be. You’re almost out of luck, you’re almost kind of screwed.

One of the largest sources of frustration for the veterans is the inability to access information. According to Jenkins, one of the biggest departments to be hit at Veterans Affairs is technology support. Because of furloughs, updates are not posted online and call lines have not been manned. Mike Grenkavich has experienced this issue first-hand.

I’m hearing that they might not be able to pay us on the first, and I won’t be able to pay rent. Right now we can’t even call a hotline to check on our education to make sure our tuition’s going to get in. It’s frightening, it’s frustrating. I want to just call someone up to say something – and I did – but you know it makes no difference what I say.

A protest of the Federal shutdown organized by a coalition of military organizations is planned to take place on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Thursday is another key deadline: the debt ceiling. For student veterans like Grenkavich a few short weeks into the fall quarter, just getting by in their own lives is the top priority.

I have spent the last two years rebuilding my life. I started in community college, I made it all the way to UW – somewhere I never thought I’d be – and I am thankful to the VA for that. Now I’m afraid that it’s all going to get ripped away.

Produced by Hannah Burn.