Student Veterans Experience Problems with New GI Bill

Bryan Day prepared for the spring semester at Florida State University even though he wasn’t sure if his fall fees would be covered.

The Army veteran paid for fees and other expenses on credit cards in the hope that federal dollars requested for books and tuition would get to him before 2010 started. His was a hope shared by thousands of veterans nationwide who take advantage of the GI Bill.

Originally, the GI Bill was established in 1944 for returning World War II veterans hoping to go to college. A Post 9/11 GI Bill went into effect Aug. 1. The updated version covers tuition, fees, housing and books.

With the old GI Bill, students received a check for a set amount designed to cover tuition. Those who signed up for the new GI Bill are being caught up in a processing glitch.

“They either got paid or they didn’t,” Cheryl Goodson, FSU’s coordinator of veterans’ affairs, said about student veterans awaiting federal dollars.

“I’d like to find a way to solve this,” Day said about the processing slowdown.

Veterans Affairs Department officials said the number of claims to be processed in late December was fewer than 5,000 — down from tens of thousands — and the goal was to have all claims processed by the end of the year.

Delorise Page-Robinson, Tallahassee Community College’s coordinator of veterans affairs, said she has seen an improvement from December. She said she received about 66 student checks during the winter break. Now, “a little more than 30” student veterans are waiting to have their claims processed.

Page-Robinson believes that the communication between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs was at a crawl.

The Department of Defense is charged with confirming that each student is a veteran. That information then goes to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the claim to be processed, she said.

“It was taking so long to even tell (veterans) they were eligible,” Page-Robinson said. “I think that was the slowdown — the processing office got overwhelmed.”

Said VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts, “We continue to work on a daily basis with schools to make sure that no student is denied attending class as a result of delayed tuition payments. It’s a top priority for the VA to make sure that students can focus on their studies rather than their bank accounts.”

Page-Robinson and Goodson, FSU’s coordinator of veterans affairs, said both institutions offer deferments to make sure students stay in class while claims are processed. Day was unable to see his grades at the end of the fall semester because his fees had not been paid.

However, he did receive a $3,200 “catch-up” check within the last week. He’s still owed at least $200 for books, he said.

Page-Robinson said those checks are to help veterans who have been waiting for rent, books and tuition.

“We were hurt but (Veterans Affairs) are getting on the ball,” she said.

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