October 17, 2013

Surviving a Government Shutdown on VA Benefits

As of this writing, President Obama signed a bill to temporarily suspend the budget debate and get the federal government back to work.  However, even if the VA processors get back up and running immediately, there may still be a delay in benefit processing as they work to clear through the backlog that has built up over the past few weeks.  So, veterans would be well advised to expect a delay next month, and budget accordingly.

Whether a delay is attributed to a government shutdown, technological glitch, missing paperwork, a processing error, or other issue, it's important to have a back up plan to ensure that you can continue your studies while working though the delay.  Here are some resources to help you put your contingency plan together:


  • Contact your School Certifying Official about the delay.  If it's a systematic problem, they probably know about it already and might be able to share some insight with you.  If your situation is unique, they may be able to research it for you, contact the VA for additional information, or suggest additional resources to help you work through the issue.
  • Apply for federal financial aid by completing the FAFSA. The FAFSA will determine your estimated family contribution (EFC), or the amount of money you can afford to pay toward your education.  VA benefits are not calculated as income on the FAFSA application, but military pay is included. Your school financial aid office can help you with the application process if you have any questions.  Once your school receives the EFC data from your FAFSA, the financial aid office will prepare an aid package to help you cover the cost of a year of education, including tuition, lodging, books, and other educational expenses.  Your aid package may include a combination of grants, loans, scholarships, work-study, and other funding.  You may choose to accept or decline any or all of the aid that is offered.  Be sure to ask your financial aid counselor about the terms of your awards.  If you have adequate funding through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you may decide to decline loans, but they make excellent back-up funding in case something goes awry with your VA payments.
  • Ask your school about tuition or fee payment deadlines and exceptions.  Many schools are able to make exceptions to deadlines or policies if you let them know about your situation, and if you have taken care of all of your responsibilities in a timely manner.
  • Consider living in a campus apartment or campus family housing unit, if possible.  Campus housing offices are often able to work with VA beneficiaries whose payments are delayed, while private landlords may be less likely to do so.
  • Inquire at your school financial aid office about an emergency loan.  Many campuses have some funds available for unexpected expenses, and can often processes an emergency loan application quickly, even if you haven't yet completed the FAFSA.
  • Contact the veteran service organizations in your community, such as the American Legion and the VFW, as well as community-based service organizations such as United Way and local food banks, to identify other resources that may be available to you if you need them.
  • Lastly, be sure to recognize the additional stress you may experience during a period of financial uncertainty, and take extra time to take care of yourself and your family.  Use your resiliency training or the mental health services available on your campus and in  your community to help you.

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