EL PASO — The Post 9/11 Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 33), is a new education program from the Department of Veterans Affairs that provides education and housing assistance to individuals with at least 90 days of active duty service on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
But with so many applicants, it caused a backlog that stalled education benefits to active duty members, veterans and dependents.
The bill provides full tuition to an institution of higher learning, a housing allowance and a books and supplies stipend, not just to those with 90 days of service but also to those discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days.
When the Post 9/11 GI Bill became effective on Aug. 1, 2009, those individuals who were under the Montgomery GI Bill–Active Duty (Chapter 30), or another education program, had the option to make an irrevocable decision to switch to the new Chapter 33.
According to Holly Denney, director of Military Services for the University of Texas at El Paso, nearly 300,000 applicants applied for the new program nationwide, and 56 UTEP students made the switch from Chapter 30 to Chapter 33.
“Based on current records, we have 180 students who are using the Post 9/11 GI bill this semester which is roughly about 30 percent of our certified students, this can include dependent family members as well,” Denney said.
Though the Post 9/11 GI Bill is a better solution than other education benefit programs, according to the VA Web site, www.va.gov, for some, it just isn’t worth the hassle.
“I’ve had to take out emergency loans, Stafford loans… had I known it was going to be like this, I would’ve never switched over,” said Diego Soto, a freshman student at UTEP.
Because the VA was so backed up in issuing payments, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki authorized advance payments up to $3,000 for veterans who applied and did not receive payment.
Veterans could go to the nearest VA regional center with a picture ID and course schedule or apply online, but since the nearest VA center is in Waco or Albuquerque, the VA representatives came to UTEP.
“When the announcement came out to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that they were going to cut emergency checks, a couple of VA representatives came to the campus as opposed to having students go all the way to Waco or Albuquerque. I think that was very instrumental,” Denney said.
Before Shinseki’s announcement was released, the Military Service office at UTEP was doing what they could to help the enrolled veterans.
If a veteran already had their letter of eligibility that states the percentage of benefit they’re entitled to, Military Services would send that information to Student Business Services so they could post payment, according to Denney.
“We were trying to minimize the financial impact as far the tuition and fees go and hopefully keeping them from having to do installment loans or credit card payments, things like that, or having to lose their schedule,” Denney said.
When asked if any measures were being taken in case the same thing happened next semester, Denney said they would be doing the same thing as far as tuition and fees went. She said all they ask is that as soon as individuals get their certificate of eligibility, to come into their office, fill out some paperwork so that Student Business Services can start posting payment.
“Come in and sign a Statement of Understanding for the Spring semester and come in and let us know that you are already registered. We’ll verify your schedule against your degree plan and get the certification process started. We will start certifying as soon as students start registering,” Denney said.
For more information, visit the VA Web site at www.va.gov.