Veterans association wants to get more veterans covered by G.I. Bill
Posted February 28, 2010 at 7:10 pm in News
The government is pushing to get more veterans to take advantage of the benefits offered by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, though the program was plagued by logistical problems in its initial year.
The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which began this year, helps veterans fund their undergraduate or post-graduate education by covering tuition costs at any university equal to the cost of the most expensive public university in the state. Veterans attending private universities can often receive additional funds through the Yellow Ribbon Program, an opt-in program in which the school offers an additional scholarship at an amount the Department of Veterans Affairs agrees to match.
Because of debate over California‚Äôs tuition costs ‚ÄĒ originally determined to be $0 ‚ÄĒ schools at USC were hesitant to get involved with the G.I. Bill this year; only two of the graduate schools offered benefits through the Yellow Ribbon Program, though all undergraduates were eligible. Twenty undergraduate students and 17 graduate students at USC received Yellow Ribbon Program benefits this year.
Though the problem with California‚Äôs tuition costs was eventually settled, additional problems arose when veterans tried to get their benefits checks. Many checks did not come in time, and veterans were left wondering when they would get their promised money.
Yet, despite the chaos of the G.I. Bill‚Äôs inaugural year, USC is hoping to expand the program next year.
Robert Morley, associate registrar and tuition exchange liaison at USC, said problems with the bill and its late execution affected the ways in which the university was able to use it.
‚ÄúThe V.A. launched this program without really being prepared to execute it,‚ÄĚ Morley said. ‚ÄúIt was fairly chaotic. All of the rules and the regulations were not firmly established. The program got released so late that most schools had already set their financial aid budgets.‚ÄĚ
The only USC graduate programs that participated in the Yellow Ribbon Program this year were the Rossier School of Education and the School of Social Work.
Morley said he is currently holding meetings with some of the graduate schools and the USC Financial Aid Office to discuss the future of this program.
‚ÄúRight now I‚Äôm trying to contact other schools and determine their level of interest,‚ÄĚ Morley said.
Morley said he believes more graduate schools will join the Yellow Ribbon Program next school year.
The V.A. has also launched an advertising campaign to make more veterans aware of the benefits available to them, but some at USC are not sure how effective this will be.
Jennifer Grodsky, executive director of the Office of Federal Relations, said she does not think awareness is necessarily the problem.
‚ÄúThe veterans I‚Äôve met are all just incredibly savvy individuals, and a lot of them know about their benefits and are really smart about utilizing them,‚ÄĚ Grodsky said. ‚ÄúMy sense is that veterans really do know about the program. They may have questions about the details, but they know they‚Äôre entitled to a benefit and they‚Äôre excited about using it. The real focus should make sure that veterans are being helped.‚ÄĚ
Julio Beltran, president of the USC Veterans Association, received money this year from the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill because of his six years of service in the Marines.
Beltran, who is a senior majoring in music industry, said the school receives about $3,000 dollars per semester from the V.A. for his tuition, in addition to the $1,500 he receives in housing stipends and the $400 he receives for books each semester.
Beltran also receives money through the USC Financial Aid Office in the form of scholarships, grants and loans.
‚ÄúRight now, the most reliable form of financial aid is financial aid directly through USC,‚ÄĚ he said.
Beltran said he thinks the proper course of action would be to send V.A. representatives to schools to speak with veterans and help them with the process of applying for and receiving their tuition.
Beltran said though the V.A. has improved slightly over the course of the school year in providing the students with their funds, it is far from flawless.
‚ÄúI wouldn‚Äôt say it‚Äôs drastically improved,‚ÄĚ Beltran said. ‚ÄúBut it was definitely a big issue in the beginning of the school year.‚ÄĚ
But Chris Roessner, a graduate student studying cinema-television production, disagreed.
Though he had initial problems with the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, Roessner said he is now very pleased with the benefits he is receiving.
‚ÄúThe first three months I didn‚Äôt get my military checks on time,‚ÄĚ said Roessner, who served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. ‚ÄúBut now everything comes pretty much on time.‚ÄĚ
Roessner said he receives slightly less than $3,000 a semester for tuition, $1,200 a month for rent and $300 a semester for books. He also receives money from the Financial Aid Office.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve had no problem paying for school,‚ÄĚ Roessner said.
This semester, there are 201 active veterans at USC, including undergraduates and graduates. A large majority of these students receive money from the V.A., Morley said.
Though the Yellow Ribbon Program funded 20 undergraduates this year, there have been additional inquiries from approximately 40 veterans.
Beltran hopes more veterans will be able to attend USC if the V.A. becomes more organized and starts issuing the money in more a timely basis.
‚ÄúI think there could be a more targeted effort to recruit veterans to USC,‚ÄĚ Beltran said.
Morley said that USC plans on participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program again next year and believes that veterans will continue to apply for federal aid.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre hopeful that this year will go much more smoothly,‚ÄĚ he said.