By Jacob Beltran
Local and military officials shared how they were impacted by the 16-day government shutdown, furloughs, and budget sequestration Wednesday as part of a joint hearing held by members of the house and senate in the large auditorium at Brooks City-Base Campus.
The joint hearing, held by the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations House Committee on Defense and Veteran’s Affairs, brought together five senators and nine representatives, including Texas state senators Leticia Van De Putte and Wendy Davis.
The hearing was held at Brooks through the planning efforts of Brooks Development Authority at the request of the state legislative chair departments, said Natalia Martinez, BDA public affairs manager.
“It took place there because of the venue (A&M) was able to offer. It seemed perfect for what they were looking for,” she said. “It was a good program as president (Maria) Ferrier was explaining that what better place than Texas A&M. It made sense being that they were a former military base.”
The first three testimonies from John Nichols, Major General of the Texas Military Department; Paul Paine, Chairman of the Texas Military Preparedness Commission; and Chairman Eliseo “Al” Cantu, Chairman of the Texas Veterans Commission, all expressed concerns on the possible closing of another base during the 2015 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Their concerns also included the potential impact a lack of funding could have had on their abilities to provide services to veterans, student veterans and their families, along with suggestions for how to handle funding in case of another government shutdown.
The commission would carry out budget cuts by the Department of Defense totaling $487 billion in cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
“We could have another BRAC like 1993 and 1995,” Paine said.
During BRAC hearings between 1991 and 1995, Carswell, Kelly and Brooks AFB’s were closed.
The speakers agreed that better representation will be needed during the hearing, because the commission is more concerned with closing bases in a states that have more bases than others.
As for the impact of furloughs, Nichols discussed how the Texas Army National Guard was ready during the October flooding that hit Austin midway through the government shutdown.
Although he lost 363 full-time workers, his branch continued rescue operations during the flooding.
“It was hard. We had half of the full-time force, but none of the job changed,” Nichols said.
Three speakers from local education facilities testified about the impact the stop had on their ability to help student veterans and their families.
Charles Rodriguez, vice president for strategic initiatives and military affairs at Texas A&M-San Antonio, said that had the government shutdown continued, many students would have been unable to afford their living costs.
Had the shutdown extended, he said, the Veterans Affairs department would have exhausted its benefits to keep help available to students.
“Many students could have exhausted their G.I. Bill benefits sooner if they were forced to use that,” he said.
Elvira Jacquez, military liaison for the University of Texas, said that the shutdown furloughed their few advisers, forcing them to close doors to student veterans who needed counseling help.
“Because of furlough, veteran counselors were not present to help those veteran students,” she said. “The doors were closed and there was a note on the door as to where they could get information.”
Gail Siller, superintendent at Fort Sam Houston Independent School District, said lack of funds from the government could have a negative impact on their aid program, which hasn’t been fully funded since 1969.
Siller shared the different services her district provides to students via federal funding. She said without funding, the school district would be unable to provide aid to students coming in from other parts of world to continue programs they began in their own school.
“We want to make sure transfer students are able to come to the same program they were in,” she said. “It may be an art class or Latin, we make it so they have a lab that they can use to continue to get credit for it.”
The board of senators and representatives gave each speaker their support, assuring each one they would make efforts to right wrongs or even take preventative measures with federal level government entities to ensure local departments have the funding they need.