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Many UI student veterans still waiting for tuition assistance

BY SHANE ERSLAND | OCTOBER 07, 2009 7:20 AM

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Nearly two months into the fall semester, many student veterans have yet to see promised funds that would enable them to pay their tuition.

Only a third of the roughly 60 UI students who applied for the Post-9/11 GI Bill have received their money.

The new bill, aside from paying tuition, includes a monthly living allowance and a book stipend of $1,000 per year.

In an attempt to make amends to vets waiting for their money, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is offering $3,000 emergency checks to those who have not yet received benefits. UI students can apply for a check online, which processes in four to five days, or travel to Des Moines’ VA Regional Center to pick one up.

“This is an example of making decisions during wartime; it’s crisis management,” said Herald “Skip” Kempnich, who handles all the UI student veterans’ requests for financial aid.

Funds were originally scheduled for disbursement in late August, but organizational problems associated with the Post-9/11 bill pushed the date back by six to eight weeks. This week marks the sixth since officials announced the delay.

The VA has made funds available to other vets who haven’t received benefit payments, not just those signed up for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Active-duty vets signed up for the Montgomery GI Bill are the only others to receive the full $3,000. Selected Reserve students signed up for the same bill, along with Post-Vietnam Era Educational Assistance Programs, are only eligible to receive $1,000. Reserve Education Assistance Program veterans can draw $2,000. The funds come out of the total amount a student is set to receive.

“Processing on all of the bills seems to be a bit slower than usual,” Kempnich said.

UI sophomore Drew Mangler received his benefits last Thursday. Because UI officials are privy to the current delay, he said he was not pressured by the UI Office of Financial Aid officials when he didn’t pay his bill.

“I didn’t need to worry about that — they knew it was going to be paid [eventually],” he said.

Kempnich e-mailed his vets — more than 330 — to let them know about the emergency checks as soon as the option was announced last week, but he said he hasn’t heard of any of them taking advantage of it at this point. He knew of two students who applied for short-term loans through Student Financial Aid to help make up for their lack of benefits.

UI Veterans Association President Drew Hjelm, who received his Montgomery GI Bill check relatively on time, said UI officials have consistently been understanding about vets’ financial issues, even before problems sprung up with the new Post-9/11 bill.

“The UI has been phenomenal; it knows there are a lot of issues with payments,” the UI junior said. “Even prior to this year, [officials] said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ The important thing is for vets to be able to go to school.”

Kempnich said VA officials continue to work overtime to correct the problem, but he’s still worried about when his vets will receive benefits.

“It’s possible people could still be waiting after Halloween,” he said. “This month will be crucial; money should start showing up, and we’ll know whether to keep worrying.”


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