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| November 23, 2014

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G. I. Broke

     Monarch Military Veterans Frustrated With Tardy Certification of Benefits

“We never get paid on time. I don’t have money for books. I’ve actually done two or three semesters without any money at all. And I’m just one veteran. This is something that’s happening to hundreds of veterans at this university. It seems like the certification officials really don’t care and they’re not doing their job efficiently enough to take care of veterans the way that they should be.”

That’s the sentiment 33-year old senior criminology major and 14-year military veteran Kenneth Smith feels about Old Dominion University’s lack of an efficient certification process in adherence with The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the G.I. Bill. The bill benefits veteran servicemembers by providing cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college, among other compensations. However, many veterans complain of not being certified on time and have suffered both academically and financially as a result.

“I’ve done at least two semesters at ODU where I didn’t have water in my house, electricity. I wasn’t able to pay my mortgage on time,” Smith said. “I used to have a 720 credit score, but because I haven’t been getting paid on time, my credit score has dropped to below 500. I’ve also been on the Dean’s List since my first semester but ended up getting two D’s because I couldn’t afford to buy the books.”

As mentioned, it’s not just Smith who’s come forth with this issue. There are more than a handful of students complaining, including 28-year old computer science major and five-year army veteran Ryan Jennings, and senior history major and 20-year retired Navy veteran Laura Sootoo.

“When bringing up the situation to Veteran’s Affair’s, they’re not too keen on helping us out or don’t know the answers. They give us excuses like being understaffed and [we] continue having to pay out of pocket for rent, not getting our BHA [Basic Housing Allowance] on time,” Jennings said. “We have to take out other loans to pay rent so we won’t get kicked out.”

Sootoo admits that up until last semester, she’s been getting paid on time. But ever since then, she feels ODU has been “dropping the ball.”

“I am lucky that my husband has a good enough job so I don’t have to worry like some people. But it does hurt my family,” Sootoo admitted.

An anonymous student and veteran also stated that the issue of not getting certified has run his credit card up to $4,000.

Faculty advisor for the Student Veterans Association (SVA) Kathleen Levingston released the following statement regarding the matter:

“…I’ve had quite a few students come to me with similar concerns, and I take these very seriously. I will continue to advocate for each of them to the best of my ability. Sometimes the issues are beyond the control of ODU since we also have to work with the VA for reimbursements. Regardless, my main focus is on student success, so I will continue to advocate to address any potential barriers to help our veterans in their pursuit of higher education.”

Kristopher West, VA Certifying Official at the ODU Registrar’s Office, shared his thoughts on the situation in the following statement:

“ODU VA Services processes enrollment certifications in the order in which students register.  Students who registered on their Pre-Registration Time Ticket date, or during the first 9 days of Open Registration have already been certified. This makes up about 90% of the GI Bill student population.  My staff has already begun to certify the remaining students who registered outside of the above time frame.  We hope to have those students certified by the end if business next Friday. Although we have recently hired a 5th certifying official to help us certify faster, GI Bill Students are strongly encouraged to not delay their semester enrollments; especially for the Spring Semester.  We urge all GI Bill students to register on their given time ticket date.”

Others who have yet to be certified include junior sociology major, transfer student and almost six-year veteran Natasha Parker, four-year active Navy veteran Chad Thomas, and ODU senior veteran Nathaniel Brown, Jr. Thomas admitted that he’s always gotten paid late but his main problem started last semester.

“The registrar’s office didn’t send my course info to the VA office. When I called, they didn’t have anything to certify my classes with,” Parker said.

“I have two kids, I have a house, mortgage to pay, books. I don’t like to dig into my savings account. Having to live off it for two months, it can be stressful for anybody. Trying to struggle to make ends meet is unacceptable,” Brown said.

Thomas said he didn’t get certified until halfway through the semester, which was a problem because he now has to retake a biology class due to not having enough money to buy the lab manual. The total $1500 he failed to receive resulted in him having to withdraw money from his personal bank account to cover books and other expenses. He also affirmed that if action is not taken within a reasonable amount of time, then he will have no choice but to take extreme action.

“If this is something that keeps happening I will be forced to actually go to another university, which I don’t want to because I really, really like this school,” Thomas said. “When my time ticket opens up, I register for classes. As soon as I get in, I sign up and that goes into the VA officials over there in the Registrar’s office. They’re not sending the stuff off so that’s affecting me a great deal.”

“If this doesn’t work, I have no other option but to transfer because, like I said, other vets at other schools, they don’t have this problem.”

 By: Brian Jerry

Senior Writer

 

Comments

  1. Rob Fullerton

    Aren’t these VA payments called reimbursements, meaning the VA pays you back (refunds) for money you spend. Why are these students expecting to live off of refund checks? It is like spending a tax refund you haven’t gotten back yet, then being mad that the federal government refund is taking so long. ODU has one of the largest military populations, if not the largest, of any school in VA. Most students struggle to pay rent, expenses without the benefit of refund checks…welcome to college life. It is not that students are not having their enrollment verified to the VA by ODU, but that the VA, large government organization, takes care of VA payments for the entire nation, so yes that means it will take a the federal government a while to refund those students.

    • Kenneth Smith

      Actually Rob, no they are not called reimbursements. The money is money that we as veterans gave years of our lives to earn. And I don’t recall anyone in the article stating that they are trying to live off of that money. The money is supposed to be a subsidy for housing expenses while vets attend school. However, when that money does not come on time as promised to vets by the federal government then they have to dig into other money that has been set aside to pay for housing. On top of that, vets don’t have the benefit of lollygagging around like most college students who take four of more years to graduate. We generally do it in 36 months or less, but I’m sure you knew that. And actually the problem was that students weren’t getting certified on time(meaning before the semester starts), vets were registering at the end of spring semester for fall and not getting certified until after fall semester started. Even with the 2,800 vets that were enrolled at ODU at the time I don’t think it takes that long to certify them. The process has gotten much better since this story hit the school paper and I’m sure vets who were experiencing these problems with the certification process are glad that vets expressed their discontent with the way things were going.

  2. Kenneth Smith

    I am so glad that finally attention has been given to this issue. Hopefully the certification process that ODU uses can be fixed. The statement that Kris West made about certifying students based on when they register is completely incorrect. I have always registered as soon as my time ticket opens. As a matter of fact, I registered this semester on Nov 14th, and I didn’t get certified until Jan 28th, and not because the certifying officials were doing there jobs, but because Dr. Levingston, who has been a stellar advocate for vets on campus, personally went over to their office and requested that i get certified. This is simply ridiculous, and we veterans deserve better. I hope the right people take notice to this article and make the neccessary changes to fix this issue.

  3. Joe Mota

    There is a easy solution to what Kris West responded with. Give every veteran priority registration, same as athletes and students with disabilities. This would give most veterans a week earlier to register, which could speed up the timeline for the VA Certifying officials to get registrations out.

    I wish every student veteran luck in this process, and keep up the good work and GRADUATE, so we no longer have to be in this mess!!!

  4. Nicole White

    The solution isn’t giving vets priority registration, the solution is for these people to get jobs to pay their bills like everyone else. Its just plain dumb to try and live off a refund check. You should base your living expenses on your paycheck from a job not refund money from the VA. Stop blaming other people for problems that you created for yourself.

    • Kenneth Smith

      Again, I don’t know who is trying to live off of their GI bill money, but it would be nice to be able to pay the rent with it on time. But wait, that would be too much like exactly what the money is for so I guess that’s out.

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