USC student Chris Roessner drove to the US Department of Veteran Affairs’ Westwood office Friday morning to apply for an emergency payment for student veterans. The line was so long, he said, he applied for the payment from his iPhone instead, as he needed the money so he could pay his rent.
Roessner, a first year graduate student in the USC Student of Cinematic Arts’ Peter Stark Producing Program, was one of nearly 25,000 student veterans nationwide to line up for emergency payments worth $3,000 last week. Roessner and the other veterans — there are about 100 others at USC — rely on the Post-9/11 GI Bill to help fund their education, but Veterans Affairs has fallen behind in processing applications for the funds veterans need to keep up with their payments.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides fee or tuition coverage for every veteran who served after Sept. 11, 2001, up to the cost of the most expensive public school in the state where the veteran will be studying.
USC adopted the program at the last minute after controversy over California’s tuition rates. Originally, California veterans were only entitled to benefits under the Yellow Ribbon Program — a special provision of the bill — as California tuition was listed at 0. Now, however, the Veteran Affairs’ website lists California’s GI Bill tuition benefits as $287 per credit hour and $2,165.25 in fees per semester.
Veteran Affairs, however, has been slow in processing applications for GI Bill benefits, and veterans have been forced to wait for their funds, as expenses pile up.
To remedy the problem, Veterans Affairs began issuing the emergency checks — handwritten checks that advance some of the GI Bill money to veterans — on Friday.
The emergency funds give veterans $3,000 they can use immediately. Those funds will eventually be taken out of the veterans’ GI Bill benefits.
“The $3,000 advanced pay is going to be recouped in small increments from [my] future GI Bill payments,” Roessner said.
Roessner has been using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to pay for rent expenses, but since his checks for this year have not arrived, he will use the emergency funds for rent.
Roessner is not the only USC veteran having trouble with GI Bill benefits.
Anthony Tagum, a Marine and a senior majoring in accounting, said he is applying for the $3,000 emergency payment because his funds haven’t been processed yet.
“[The GI Bill] is going to help me cover all my books and school supplies and helps me cover housing and any tuition payments,” Tagum said.
Roessner, who served in the Army for six years before college, also earned his undergraduate degree at USC, though without any Veterans Affairs’ benefits. Roessner decided he wanted an education during the time he served in Iraq.
“I learned how important education was in Iraq when I saw how dangerous Saddam Hussein thought education was,” Roessner said. “I decided that the only thing that was important to me if I was to make it back from Iraq was that I would cultivate my own unique perspective on the world. And that was more precious than anything.”
In addition to GI Bill benefits, veterans at USC could benefit from the Yellow Ribbon program. The YRP allows universities to volunteer to give veterans additional funds that Veteran Affairs will match, Robert Morley, USC associate registrar and tuition exchange liaison wrote in an email.
USC’s participation in the YRP includes 20 awards for undergraduates at $2,500 each, and awards of $10,000 for 10 students in the School of Social Work and 10 graduates in the Rossier School of Education. Those awards are matched by Veterans Affairs.
Morley said the Veterans Affairs requires that veterans are awarded with YRP stipends on a first-come first-served basis.
“Whoever provided us with their VA certification for benefits [first], that’s how we determined who would get [the stipend],” he wrote.