Gov’t back in, veterans still out

In response to the struggle that student veterans are facing due to the recent federal government shutdown, Mariana Vega, the Citrus College student trustee, along with the Associated Students of Citrus College and the Young Americans for Liberty club have begun a Veteran’s Relief Drive that will continue through Nov. 5.

The purpose of the drive is to provide essentials for student veterans. “The ideal donation[s] would be either gas cards or food cards for grocery stores,” Vega said.

Some student veterans who are attending Citrus College and utilizing their GI Bill benefits are receiving their checks late, if at all.

The delay has left some student veterans with little-to-no money to live on.

The GI Bill only pays student veterans when classes are in session, which means that student veterans who took summer classes received those benefits but since the start of the fall semester the majority of them have not received any money.

An estimated 800,000 civilian government workers were declared “non-essential” and were furloughed on Oct. 1 at the start of the government shutdown.

The furloughs meant fewer workers, with the same amount of work, causing the checks to be delayed.

After 16 days, the government reopened on Oct. 17 allowing federal workers to return to work.

Effects of the government shutdown were widespread. National parks and monuments were closed. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs could have potentially run out of money by the end of the month.

The 1.4 million active duty military personnel maintained their normal duty status and continued to be paid.

However, benefits that come from the VA to veterans and their families were adversely affected.

Death benefits awarded to families of soldiers who have been killed were halted during the shutdown.

“I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner,” said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in a statement expressing his frustration with Congress.

Reopening the federal government is a relief, but for student veterans the delay of their paychecks has not made things easy.

Julian Espejo, 23, was in the Army for four and a half years and was just recently honorably discharged in May 2013. He supports his wife and brother and has gone without a paycheck for two months.

“It was scary,” Espejo said.

For those two months Espejo and his brother spent days at a time calling veterans resources looking for any type of help. They went out and collected cans to recycle just to try make ends meet.

He missed two weeks of classes because he had no money for gas to get to school. “I was thinking I’m not gonna be able to get to class and continue to get my benefits before I even get them,” Espejo said. “Because before I get them I’m gonna get kicked out from not being [in class].”

Each day the government takes to reorganize, chances of veterans being forced to drop out of school and find jobs increase.

This shutdown caused student veterans to question whether they would be able to continue to go to school while also trying to put food on the table.

“You can’t blame them, you don’t wanna fault them,” Monica Christianson program director in the Veterans Center said. “I can understand why [they] haven’t been to school, I can understand why [they] haven’t been to classes. So you feel very helpless and very frustrated at the system.”

Of the approximately 400 student veterans enrolled at Citrus College, an estimated 330 of them use government benefits.

Some have received their checks but others are still on stand-by.

“What people don’t understand is yeah, [they’re] gonna get paid, but when?” Christianson said.

Now that funding has been restored the VA has reported that they will issue benefit payments to approximately 5 million veterans and veteran families on Nov. 1 as scheduled.

“These veterans are trying to return to civilian life and get an education,” Vega said. “They are almost getting an unwelcome feeling from what is going on in Washington . . .  it’s just completely unfair.”

The outreach to help the student veterans goes far beyond the students, staff and faculty of Citrus College.

Arturo Alas, a republican 32nd congressional district candidate for the 2014 election, paid a visit to Citrus College and helped members of the Young Americans for Liberty club make phone calls to local businesses for donations.

“Our veterans didn’t hesitate to answer the call when we needed them so now the very least we can do is help them,” Alas said. “These people are the ones that put their lives on the line . . . and for Congress to play with the benefits these veterans have earned is a shame.”