Fighting the GI Bill Holdup

Veterans Day is two days past, but for this college teacher every day is veterans day, for a number of my students, male and female, have come home from Iraq, Afghanistan or from stateside military service.

They don’t advertise their status, but early this semester in particular I found that students who experienced delays in getting their financial aid so they could afford textbooks (no small expense, believe me) were often fresh back from the wars. At least one is still struggling to get his benefits today.

Thanks to the local chapter of the Student Veterans of America, founded in November 2008 and fully recognized this past September, and to officials at Macon State College, veterans are in much better shape now.

The national Student Veterans Association, which has 201 chapters (four in Georgia), was founded in January 2008. It played an important role in getting the Post 9/11 GI Bill through Congress.

President George W. Bush signed the bill into law in June 2008. It offers veterans who have served after Sept. 11, 2001, full in-state tuition and money for books and living expenses. The Veterans Administration started accepting applications in May 2009.

It had done such a good job of promoting the benefit that by late September it had received 277,000-plus applications. The SVA says by Sept. 16 — a month into the fall semester at MSC — the VA had distributed only about 20,000 tuition grants and about 30,000 book and living stipends.

In other words, only 10 percent of the veterans who needed the payments were receiving them. Many were threatened with delaying college (and future jobs) four months or more, since most colleges won’t keep you registered unless you’re paid up.

What had happened? Thomas Stevens, who teaches sociology at Macon State and is a chapter adviser, speculates that the Veterans Administration was simply overwhelmed by the unexpected number of applications and lacked the staff to process so many expeditiously.

At any rate, a three-month backlog developed in getting applications approved, much less receiving the money.

The veterans at Macon State were luckier than many. The college decided that veterans with applications in the works would not be dropped for nonpayment.

According to the MSC chapter President Matthew Felty, an Iraq veteran, personnel in the Registrar’s and Business Office, working with Maria Dorothy, the veteran’s certifying official at MSC, saw to it that those students could stay in school.

Meantime, members of the local SVA contacted Rep. Jim Marshall, himself a Vietnam veteran, through retired Col. Kyle George of his regional office, seeking congressional clout in breaking the logjam. The national SVA and other veterans groups worked with Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki for a remedy.

On Sept. 25, the VA agreed to provide emergency advance payments of up to $3,000 to veterans waiting for their money. And the VA backlog is down to a month now. By today, Felty said, more than 300 post-2001 veterans are receiving the new GI Bill benefits at Macon State.

State SVA President John Manganaro said the organization is also active in setting up networking and mentoring programs with American Corporate Partners, assisting veterans to find jobs using their leadership skills.

As one who owes a lot of his education to the Korean and Vietnam era GI bills, I know how important such benefits are. They bring reality to the fine words spoken on Veterans Day.


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