Student Veteran Services

Mathematics sophomore Daniel Penuelaz is one of 809 veterans on campus that could be affected by the government shutdown. As a husband and father of two children in San Antonio, Penuelaz relies heavily on his benefits for his education and to travel back home to his family every other weekend.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

UT student veterans, who would normally receive $1 million in federal money Nov. 1 for veterans’ disability and educational benefits, may not receive the payment because of the government shutdown.

Across campus, the shutdown has closed the LBJ Library and threatens research grants. Now, student veterans may see an impact as the office awaits the sum of money that usually arrives at the beginning of every month.

The government shutdown — now in its third week — could suspend claim processing for different veterans benefits, as well as surviving spouses and dependents. This includes halting compensation payments for more than 5.1 million veterans, Eric Shinseki, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said before the House Committee on Veteran Affairs Wednesday.

Each of the 600 students using these benefits on campus receive between $200 and $2,000 a month, said Ben Armstrong, director of Student Veteran Services.

“Although we are not required to do anything as an institution, we realize that this money is very important to our students,” Armstrong said. “Some of them may not be able to pay their bills or even get to class. We are working to find what abilities we have in order to help these students.”

Student Veteran Services has been in contact with the Office of Financial Aid, Office of the Registrar and the Office of Accounting to see what steps would be taken if these students did not receive their money.

Jamie Brown, communications coordinator at the Office of Student Financial Services, said there is no set plan, but there will be a meeting later this week to discuss available options.

“Generally, we’re going to work with these students on an individual basis and help them as we would any student in an emergency situation,” Brown said.

Armstrong said 55 percent of these student veterans are 25 to 30 years old, and 18 percent are 31 to 35 years old, many of whom have families that rely on them.

Mathematics sophomore Daniel Penuelaz returned from duty almost four years ago and decided to go back to school because of the post-9/11 GI Bill that would pay for most of his education and housing.

As a husband and father of two children in San Antonio, Penuelaz said he relies heavily on his benefits to afford an education at his “dream school” and to travel back home to his family every other weekend.

“The benefit I get usually covers the housing I receive,” Penuelaz said. “I use that money to pay for all the bills of the house. If I don’t get that check, my family is in trouble because we use my housing allowance to pay for a majority of the bills.”

Out of the 2,000 people receiving benefits on campus, only 809 are veterans. The rest are surviving children, wives or husbands of wartime veterans.

Jeremiah Gunderson, coordinator of Student Veteran Services, said the impact is noticeable in his office. Even Gunderson will be affected directly by the shutdown because he receives veteran disability benefits every month.

About 3.8 million wounded U.S. veterans could potentially not receive disability checks, which they get based on mental and physical wounds from combat.

“Their future is kind of in the hands of a bunch of people who seem a million miles away, and they don’t have any say in it,” Gunderson said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Clarification: Federal money is distributed directly to student veterans and not UT Student Veterans Services.

Correction: There are 600 student veterans on campus.

In an article published on Jan. 16, The Daily Texan reported that the University “will need to figure out how many student veterans there are” in order to track graduation rates among this population. The truth is that the University has information on every individual, past or present, who has made use of military educational benefits at UT.

It is widely believed that the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs sends employees to college campuses to assist student veterans and dependents with the transition to higher education. In reality, each university is responsible for providing that assistance to the student veterans. The Office of the Dean of Students officially launched Student Veteran Services (SVS) on Veterans Day in 2011 to address the needs of student veterans and dependents at the University. SVS has since worked closely with various administrative departments campus-wide to assist student veterans and dependents with accessing their education benefits and acclimating to student life. Both processes can be challenging.

SVS routinely collaborates with the Office of Admissions to identify incoming student veterans and dependents, and we continue to make improvements in tracking these students and collecting nationally relevant retention and completion data. SVS has also worked with New Student Services to develop orientation services specifically for student veterans. The vast majority of incoming student veterans transfer to UT-Austin from schools all over the country with widely varying transfer requirements. Partnering with admissions and orientation staff has allowed SVS to begin tracking each student veteran as soon as he or she accepts admission to the University. We have data on every student who has ever utilized veteran education benefits at UT-Austin, which benefits were used and when and whether or not the student using the benefit was a veteran or a dependent of a veteran. What we cannot track are student veterans who do not use benefits or do not self identify. 

Though the Department of Veterans Affairs provides many benefits to student veterans and dependents, frequent case backlogs and understaffing can delay receipt or disbursement of funds. To solve this problem, Student Veteran Services, since registration period in the fall semester, has started working with Student Accounts Receivable to develop a shelter program to ensure that student veteran and dependent course registration is secured until state or federal educational benefits can be applied to outstanding tuition or fees.  

The past four years have brought exponential growth in the number of student veterans and dependents using education benefits at UT. Student Veteran Services and the Office of the Registrar have worked to address the rapidly increasing workload and increase efficiency in the student veteran and dependent-benefits certification process. The Office of the Registrar has trained counselors to specialize in state and federal education benefit requests and certification, and has created new avenues for student veterans and dependents to submit or modify benefits claims. These remedies have streamlined the previously 4–6 week benefits certification process down to approximately 14 days.  

Together, Student Veteran Services, the Office of the Registrar, the Office of Admissions, Student Accounts Receivable and New Student Services are also making it easier for UT-Austin to track and collect relevant information about student veteran graduation rates. SVS is developing a plan to collect historical and current enrollment information in order to generate retention and graduation data regarding student veterans. 

The article, “Gathering higher education data on student veterans proves difficult,” quotes only student veterans. No attempt was made to interview University staff from any of the many departments that assist veterans and their dependents. Had any time been taken to gather information from a broad range of sources, the reporter would have discovered that the intricate network that exists campus-wide to support this population also keeps copious records. In short, the story would have been accurate.  

Although there are issues that can create barriers to student success, our efforts to resolve them have been successful thanks to the dedication and diligence shown by the staff involved in serving student veterans and dependents. SVS is proud of the work that has been done to find solutions and improve the ways in which the university meets the needs of student veterans and dependents. 

Armstrong is the Student Veteran Services Coordinator.In an article published on Jan. 16, The Daily Texan reported that the University “will need to figure out how many student veterans there are” in order to track graduation rates among this population. The truth is that the University has information on every individual, past or present, who has made use of military educational benefits at UT.

It is widely believed that the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs sends employees to college campuses to assist student veterans and dependents with the transition to higher education. In reality, each university is responsible for providing that assistance to the student veterans. The Office of the Dean of Students officially launched Student Veteran Services (SVS) on Veterans Day in 2011 to address the needs of student veterans and dependents at the University. SVS has since worked closely with various administrative departments campus-wide to assist student veterans and dependents with accessing their education benefits and acclimating to student life. Both processes can be challenging.

SVS routinely collaborates with the Office of Admissions to identify incoming student veterans and dependents, and we continue to make improvements in tracking these students and collecting nationally relevant retention and completion data. SVS has also worked with New Student Services to develop orientation services specifically for student veterans. The vast majority of incoming student veterans transfer to UT-Austin from schools all over the country with widely varying transfer requirements. Partnering with admissions and orientation staff has allowed SVS to begin tracking each student veteran as soon as he or she accepts admission to the University. We have data on every student who has ever utilized veteran education benefits at UT-Austin, which benefits were used and when and whether or not the student using the benefit was a veteran or a dependent of a veteran. What we cannot track are student veterans who do not use benefits or do not self identify. 

Though the Department of Veterans Affairs provides many benefits to student veterans and dependents, frequent case backlogs and understaffing can delay receipt or disbursement of funds. To solve this problem, Student Veteran Services, since registration period in the fall semester, has started working with Student Accounts Receivable to develop a shelter program to ensure that student veteran and dependent course registration is secured until state or federal educational benefits can be applied to outstanding tuition or fees.  

The past four years have brought exponential growth in the number of student veterans and dependents using education benefits at UT. Student Veteran Services and the Office of the Registrar have worked to address the rapidly increasing workload and increase efficiency in the student veteran and dependent-benefits certification process. The Office of the Registrar has trained counselors to specialize in state and federal education benefit requests and certification, and has created new avenues for student veterans and dependents to submit or modify benefits claims. These remedies have streamlined the previously 4–6 week benefits certification process down to approximately 14 days.  

Together, Student Veteran Services, the Office of the Registrar, the Office of Admissions, Student Accounts Receivable and New Student Services are also making it easier for UT-Austin to track and collect relevant information about student veteran graduation rates. SVS is developing a plan to collect historical and current enrollment information in order to generate retention and graduation data regarding student veterans. 

The article, “Gathering higher education data on student veterans proves difficult,” quotes only student veterans. No attempt was made to interview University staff from any of the many departments that assist veterans and their dependents. Had any time been taken to gather information from a broad range of sources, the reporter would have discovered that the intricate network that exists campus-wide to support this population also keeps copious records. In short, the story would have been accurate.  

Although there are issues that can create barriers to student success, our efforts to resolve them have been successful thanks to the dedication and diligence shown by the staff involved in serving student veterans and dependents. SVS is proud of the work that has been done to find solutions and improve the ways in which the university meets the needs of student veterans and dependents. 

Armstrong is the Student Veteran Services Coordinator.