Lofty promises, rocky follow-through

Having already doled out over $50 million to eligible student-veterans, the new Post-9/11 G.I. bill is the largest investment to help vets since the Montgomery G.I. Bill of 1944.

Having already doled out over $50 million to eligible student-veterans, the new Post-9/11 G.I. bill is the largest investment to help vets since the Montgomery G.I. Bill of 1944.

The new bill will cover all tuition, books and basic living costs for veterans who served, on active duty, a minimum of three years in the military following Sept. 11, 2001. Veterans who were honorably discharged after 30 days of service, due to a service-related injury, are also eligible for the benefits.

Veterans who served between 90 days and three years qualify for a portion of the full benefits, depending on length of service.

Student-veterans are flooding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with applications for the benefits of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, and the department is having trouble keeping up.

“Currently, over 40,000 student-veterans are backlogged,” said Dan Mckinlay, president of Portland State’s Student Veteran Association (SVA).

Mckinlay and SVA Vice President Brian Friend regularly hear the stories of student-veterans who are tired of waiting for the benefits of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

“Veterans—we don’t like processes,” said Friend. “Both of my roommates have made the comment that they’re tired of waiting for the money to come in. They’d rather drop out and be working for a living.”

To avoid this situation, on Oct. 2, the VA started issuing emergency checks of up to $3,000 to aid student-veterans who have applied, been approved and are waiting for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits.

Student-veterans can apply for these emergency funds on the VA Web site, which states that these requests will be processed within three business days. The VA also states that the waiting time for receiving the full benefits of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is 35 days.

“The reality is more like four to six weeks,” said Mckinlay.

Additional time, six to eight weeks according to Friend, is required for student-veterans to become certified through Portland State.

Ron Kincaid, campus veteran’s services officer for Region One of the Oregon VA, has seen his workload dramatically increase as a direct result of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Robert Hindahl, veteran’s certification officer at Portland State, said he has seen his workload triple.

“We will be hiring an additional administrative staff member to help make sure veteran certifications are not delayed because of volume,” promised Jackie Balzer, vice provost for Student Affairs.

Until that staff member has arrived, certain student-veterans are experiencing significant delays with the Portland State administration.

“Some veterans at Portland State aren’t able to register until they’ve paid their tuition,” said Friend.

One option for veterans is to pay tuition up front and get reimbursed by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill when the funds come in. Veterans using the new G.I. Bill are not subject to the late fees that Portland State charges students who haven’t paid their tuition by the Oct. 10 deadline.

Another option, which Friend chose, is to stick with the Montgomery G.I. Bill. The predecessor to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, the old bill has both advantages and disadvantages.

“The Montgomery G.I. Bill gave student-veterans enough to live in 1944,” said Mckinlay, “but it didn’t keep up with increasing costs.”

According to Mckinlay, some students with the reservist Montgomery G.I. Bill—compared to the active-duty Montgomery G.I. Bill—received as little as $330 during the 2008-09 school year.

The benefits of both G.I. bills are good for up to 36 months, but the old G.I. Bill offers a 12-month extension that is not available for student-veterans who are opting for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

This newer G.I. Bill has some clear advantages. Namely, it is designed for the schooling and living costs of today. Student-veterans would not only have their tuition covered, but would receive an additional monthly allowance of $1,200 to $1,500, according to the VA. In addition, the monthly stipend amount would increase for student-veterans with dependents.

The ramifications of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill are huge, especially in Portland, where homelessness is a constant concern. With the new G.I. Bill, homeless veterans who are eligible for its benefits would receive an education, shelter and a monthly stipend.

“One of our campaigns this year is going to be reaching out to homeless veterans,” Mckinlay said. “They should know about these options.”

Homeless veterans aren’t the only ones who should be aware of college financing opportunities.
“Student-veterans need to know that they can apply for grants and loans outside of the G.I. Bills, even if they’re already receiving G.I. Bill benefits,” said Friend.