Veteran students experience challenges with GI Bill - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Veteran students experience challenges with GI Bill


A new report from the public affairs reporting group Iowa Watch finds many of our state's veterans face challenges getting money they're owed for the GI Bill.  Veterans are waiting anywhere from a week to two months to get GI Bill payments, making it challenge for budget-strapped students to get by.

At UNI there are nearly a hundred students getting GI Bill benefits.  As more veterans come home from war, and enroll in college, there's an increase in vets needing GI Bill payments, creating a backlog in getting those checks.

Dwain Caldwell is about to graduate from UNI with a degree in geographic information and computer sciences.  For the Iraq war veteran, attending college is possible thanks to the post 9-11 GI Bill.

"The GI Bill as it's planned out is great.  The benefits that you get are really helpful," said Caldwell.

The traditional GI Bill's been around a long time, but the post 9-11 GI Bill just started in 2009.  It offers extra money to help students with books and housing, but getting that cash in hand isn't always easy.

"A lot of the benefits you plan for on a regular basis don't come when you expect them.  Sometimes it can be two to three months late, and when you have a family and a mortgage and all your bills to pay, not knowing when money's coming can be really stressful," said Caldwell.

In fact, those delays mean Caldwell works two part-time jobs in addition to being a full-time student.

UNI knows student veterans like Caldwell face a lot of issues transitioning from the military to college.  That's why just this year, UNI hired Julia Heuer as its first military and veterans student services coordinator.

"I used GI Bill benefits when I went through college, and a lot of times I didn't have a direct contact person.  So having a face and a name that you can go to, an office you can go to hopefully puts students more at ease, that we are actually working very hard to help them," said Heuer.

She says the VA knows there's a backlog in helping students like Caldwell get money they're owed, and it's creating a better way to streamline payments.

"They're switching over from a paper format to electronic, which seems like a process to be weird that we're talking about that kind of transition in 2013, but a lot of people have seen quicker processing because of that," said Heuer.

But that might not solve all the issues.  Heuer and Caldwell think the VA just needs more staff to help veterans have easy access to GI Bill money they've earned.

The good news--none of Iowa's public universities charge late fees to military students, allowing the VA more time to make payments.

UNI's Veterans Services Department also encourages military students to file for the free application for federal student aid, and to apply for scholarships to help alleviate the need for waiting on GI Bill money.

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