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Ohio State veterans still waiting on federal aid

A national backlog in processing education benefits under a new bill has caused stress and confusion for many Ohio State veteran students. Many are still waiting on financial aid to cover their tuition.
The Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act was passed in summer of 2008 and provides education benefits to veterans who have had at least 90 days of service since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site. In addition to paying tuition, the bill also gives students a monthly stipend to pay for housing and money for books at the start of the semester or quarter.
Despite the bill being passed a little over a year ago, the bill did not take effect until Aug. 1, causing a massive backlog in processing claims.
“They failed to properly plan for this. I am disappointed with the VA.” said Jeff Kohler, a first-year in political science. “They knew that there was a going to be a lot of people and they should have hired more people to process these claims,”
As of Tuesday, there are 304 students from all six of OSU’s campuses who are receiving veteran aid from the GI bill, said Michael Forrest, program director for Veteran Affairs at OSU. However, that number will probably grow.
“We think that we will be at about 350 for fall quarter,” he said, because of the open enrollment process at regional campuses.
The Ohio Board of Regents issued an advisory last week stating that universities will waive any late fees for veterans who are still waiting for money, said Rob Evans, a spokesman for the Ohio Board of Regents.
At OSU, students who are still waiting to have their tuition paid are receiving a temporary “paid” status on their account, Forrest said. This will allow them to attend class, pick up football tickets and use facilities such as the RPAC or library, but still shows in the system that they owe money.
“We are not going to kick veterans out of class if they are still waiting on their veteran aid,” Forrest said.
To help students who are still waiting for aid, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs issued a press release Friday saying it will issue emergency checks for up to $3,000 for students who need immediate funds. According to the press release, Students will need to go the nearest VA regional benefit office with a photo ID and a course schedule to request advance payment. The closest benefit office is in Cleveland. Forrest said he is looking into trying to get a representative to come to Columbus.
“It makes it impractical to get up there,” said Benjamin Lee, a third-year sport and leisure studies major. Mike Tabor, a first-year history major plans on getting an emergency check and putting it toward rent. However, he is hesitant to go up to Cleveland.
“I am going to try and wait and see if Mike can get them to come down,” Tabor said.
Despite this, students still have to find other sources of funding. Kohler said he is relying on his parents and dipping into some of his savings. He also qualified for other loans that are helping to cover tuition. However, he is still losing money when he was supposed to be saving it.
I don’t really know when I am going to get paid,” Kohler said.
Forrest also said working the program has been harder as OSU is still adapting the new Student Information System. Even though the university knows that these students will not be charged late fees, the automatic late fee system is still sending out messages to students.
Chris Johnson, a third-year in business administration said he has received messages telling him he owed late fees.
Once students apply for the benefits, they receive a letter of eligibility. This takes about four to six weeks to be completed, Forrest said. The letter of eligibility is taken to the school. Schools complete a certificate of enrollment and send it to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the claim will be processed in 6-8 weeks.
One problem Forrest identified was that his office is not entirely sure of how many students are having their tuition paid by this bill because of how new program is. OSU had no idea of how many people were going to use it until they received their request for a certificate of enrollment.
The GI bill also has a provision called the Transfer of Benefits where veterans can transfer their benefits to their spouse or children to attend school. Again, the school has no idea who or how many students are attending OSU under the Transfer of Benefits they are until they contacted the university.
In the absence of money from the GI bill, money from the other aid is going to cover tuition instead of going into students’ bank accounts as a refund from the university.
“The funds will be deducted from future education payments”, the press release said.
Twenty-five thousand claims are still pending and more than 27,500 students have received aid for books and housing or their tuition has been paid directly to their school.
Forrest is critical of the new program because he said he felt that the department of Veterans Affairs did not thoroughly reach out to schools for advice on the program.
Many students who are receiving the benefits voiced their frustrations with the program.
“Any new program that the government enacts with this amount of money in a short amount of time, there are bound to be problems, ” Johnson said. “It’s not the school’s fault.”
Other students agree that for the most part OSU has been helpful with the situation.
“I think they are trying to be pretty compensating,” Tabor said.
Forrest said OSU students are lucky since classes begin later than most universities. He expects the process to quicken for Winter Quarter, when the VA can focus on processing payments rather than trying to process both payments and letters of eligibility.

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