Back in February, the Mace and Crown ran a story entitled “G.I. Broke”, which detailed the lack of timely payments given to military veterans on campus. The G.I. Bill is part of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 and grants veteran service members cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college, among other expenses.
In the previous story, a 33-year-old senior criminology member and 14-year military veteran Kenneth Smith was one of those vets who struggled with paying tuition as a result of nonpayment from the Veteran’s Affairs Office. Smith even had to dig into his personal savings account to pay his mortgage because the money he would use for that would go to tuition. But now, his life has gotten more positive.
“Since the story came out, things got better almost immediately. About two weeks after [it] came out, I actually got paid. The only thing about that was the semester was already well underway and I was already behind in some classes,” Smith said. “So I’m just waiting to see how everything turns out.” “But the reason why I was behind was because I didn’t have the money to buy the books for the classes like I should have.”
Smith has caught up with most of his classes. And he credits his military prowess with his academic bounce back.
“Most military members are resilient anyway. We don’t have any problems catching up with stuff because we’re just used to doing that,” Smith said. “But the issue is we shouldn’t have to. It sort of puts us in a bad situation, especially when you’re trying to keep your GPA up or go to graduate school, law school, things like that.”
Smith, Thomas holding steady on campus months after getting paid on time
Now Smith doesn’t have to dig into his savings as he did before. The dependency to get by on that money is not affecting him as much as it did before because when Smith got paid, he was able to catch back up with everything. And the issue of nonpayment of mortgage was affecting his credit. He knows $1,500 is not enough per month to pay bills, but it’s enough for him to pay housing.
“Since I wasn’t getting that money, I wasn’t able to pay my mortgage. [It] was actually four or five months behind. And I’m not the only one having these problems, that’s the reason why I keep bringing it up. Not because I’m worried about the money, I’m worried about my credit that I’ve spent 10, 15 years building up to come here and have it destroyed because I [wasn’t] getting paid on time,” he said.
Unfortunately, his credit score has since gone down. But the good news is Smith’s mortgage is caught up. And thanks to the financial aid money coming through from payments via the G.I. Bill, it’s paid off. Now, he’s just worried about the summer and fall semesters. Smith is anxious to see how these next few months will turn out. He registered for the upcoming semesters on April 16th at 8 a.m. and he expects to get paid on time.
“Those are my expectations. [VA Certifying Official at the ODU Registrar’s Office] Kristopher West stated that we get paid based on our registration slots, pre-registration, things like that. Well I’ve already registered, like always,” Smith said. “And [now] I’m just expecting to get paid on time.”
Although the office hasn’t been in contact with him since the story came out, Smith is concentrating on what he can control: his schooling.. Smith expects to graduate this fall with his criminology degree.
Another student affected was four-year active Navy veteran Chad Thomas. In the past story, Thomas had to retake a biology class because he didn’t have the money to pay for the lab manual. The $1,500 he wasn’t paid resulted in him taking money out of his own bank account as well.
The real surprise came when he considered transferring to another university. Now, he’s had almost a complete change of tune and is in a much better place academically.
“After the story came out, I saw a lot of progress and everything changed. So it’s less time waiting,” Thomas said. “I guess we’ll see this coming [summer and fall] semester, how things will go. But I think it’ll change a lot.”
Everything this semester was sent to the 24-year old junior political science major in a timely fashion. He didn’t have to worry or call the office to ask about anything. This semester has been much smoother for him. And payments have been much faster since the article came out. He also plans to re-take that biology class this coming fall.
When asked about how this semester’s payments have affected his grades, Thomas without hesitation noted that he’s made up so much academic ground and the timely payment was part of that success.
“[It’s] way better, way better because I don’t have to worry about when I’m going to get paid. So I just worry about school like I’m supposed to,” Thomas said. “So, that article helped a lot [in] the whole situation.”
Going forward, Thomas feels the VA Office will improve their practices because so many veterans have had this problem.
“When you’re having this problem, you can’t really focus in school like a lot of us. So, I’m hoping and I think going forward [that] everything will be fine. I have faith,” he said.
Thomas says he’ll find out in the summer and fall sessions but nonetheless, he believes everything will be fine because a group of veterans like him brought life to the situation. And the office cut the waiting time down by almost a month, so according to him it’s some progress. Thomas registered for the summer and fall semesters on April 18th at 11 a.m., and he expects to graduate next year with a political science degree in the summer of 2014.
By. Brian Jerry