Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Doors Closed to Area Vets

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Doors Closed to Area Vets

Article excerpt

SHUTDOWN: County officials come to aid of those with ongoing claims

Offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs closed their doors on Tuesday morning, part of a rolling wave of shutdowns gripping the federal government.

For now, it is an inconvenience that has prompted Disabled American Veterans officials and county workers in Southwest Florida and elsewhere to pick up the slack on behalf of veterans with ongoing claims.

But Tuesday's action could foreshadow future trouble for veterans. At the end of this month, money will run out for all veterans' benefits except health care -- from disability payment benefits to GI bill educational benefits.

"If they cut off the disability for even one month, it is basically going to rock my world," said Scott Dasher, who graduated from the University of South Florida's Sarasota campus in June and now lives in Lakeland.

While Dasher has a marketing job, his income is not high enough to pay his bills. He counts on his $1,700 per month in disability compensation. He got an 80 percent disability rating after three tours in Afghanistan, where he served with Army Special Forces.

He also received GI bill funds.

At USF, he said, "that covered all my books, all my tuition, plus it gave me a living allowance."

In Sarasota and Manatee counties, there are roughly 90,000 veterans who are full-time residents, officials say. That number will likely swell later this year, when snowbird veterans travel south on vacation.

Nationally, there are 3.6 million people, like Dasher, on the Veterans Administration disability compensation rolls.

There are 945,000 people getting VA educational benefits, like those that Dasher used to get his USF degree. Another 347,000 spouses receive survivor benefits, too; another 300,000 receive VA pensions.

"I would say that to some people, it is just moderately disruptive," said David Autry, deputy national director of communications at Disabled American Veterans in Washington D.C. "But to those who depend on their VA benefits for the bulk of their income, it is very worrisome.

"We have gotten many calls from veterans wondering about their payments. The Department of Veterans Affairs says they will run out of money to pay those benefits at the end of October," he added. …

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