By MATTHEW BELLITTIERE
"Once you are finished with your deployment you are no longer relevant."
This is what comes to mind when I think of the Veterans Administration. Once they have used you up, being the Department of Defense, they transfer you over to the VA to be "taken care of."
You see, as a reservist, once you are called up and sent into the throngs of battle, you are America's pride and joy. Once your deployment is finished, well you're just another veteran.
Sure when you come home you get four to five people shaking your hand and uttering something about "patriotism" and "thanks for what you do" but after that it all seems to die down.
We are told that we have all these benefits to which to choose from. Personally, as a reservist, with 100 percent eligibility, I have the Post 9/11 GI Bill and it's a great program - when it works.
I start with the fact that I went to a public school in New York. I was using benefits under an old program (Montgomery GI Bill), and things were pretty easy. The school would submit verification of enrollment, I would verify this every month, and I would have money. Too easy. I loved it. Well, in all my wisdom I thought, "look at this new program it'll pay for any school anywhere." Right around then was the start of my financial and social plight.
As I transferred to a state school in the South, I filled out the necessary paperwork with the VA and left my old school in the North on good terms (thankfully). When I arrived in the South for orientation at my new school I stopped by the VA office on campus to confirm that the representative at the school received the proper paperwork and nothing was needed on my end.
The representative at the school assured me all was well, this was around mid-July. Two weeks pass and I see nothing updated on my student account. Usually my student account would reflect my financial aid and my Post 9/11 benefits.
I decided to call/email/text/carrier pigeon the VA rep as the school. Two to four days later he returned my email and stated that he had none of my paperwork! That's fine. I'm in the military and I knew something like this would happen. I contacted the Veteran Affairs Outreach office at my new school and he was able to fix the schools mess up and credit my account (sort of).
Let's head back to the financial aid part. The new school told me I must confirm my schedule or else I would be dropped from the classes. What they didn't tell me is that all of my financial aid would be applied to my student bill, which mind you is hefty because I am an out-of-state student. I was left with around $600 to be credited to my bank account after the university decided that they needed to pay themselves back first.
Back track into the middle of all of this. Because the VA rep at the university messed up my paperwork in that, he never submitted anything to the regional VA office that processes VA payments for education to the school, I was not informed that I needed to fill out a form - VA Form 22-1995, I know it by heart now - that would transfer my benefits from one school to another. That's my fault, but had I known I had to, if my paperwork was processed on time, then I would have filled it out sooner.
As I write this I am able to pay my rent and put food on my TV tray. I am not sure if I will be able to say this in the coming weeks. The VA has informed me that a file for me is not in existence for my new university and that it would take one to two weeks to find the paperwork that was submitted. After they find the paperwork it will take three to four more weeks to create and process my claim. After that it will then take two weeks to process payment.
To try and circumvent all of this I have taken out a private student loan. However, the school will not approve the amount back to the private financier because the amount in addition to my aid is over the "estimated cost of tuition."
When I contacted my school and asked what I should do I was told to wait. I was also told I could take out a $500 dollar "emergency loan" to try and bridge the gap. My rent itself is $675 in addition to all my other bills.
I am sure some of you are befuddled and others have stopped reading, and some of you are wondering why I didn't see this coming. Well, I did I had saved up over $3,000 (not bad for a bartender), and thought that any hiccups would only last until the end of September at the very latest.
What I have learned is that the South not as patriotic as we all think. Sure you have on American flag shorts and your "made in 1776" sunglasses strap but that means nothing. Not all the students around you are fresh minds and able bodies. Some of us have real world issues and have seen out-of-this world things in our time overseas.
Schools and the VA need to realize we may not have the means to make this work. Some veterans, unlike myself, don't have the means to save for times like this, and some have families too that rely on the housing allowance, financial aid and book stipend.
I hope the VA and Schools, specifically mine ... please, work together to prevent veterans that have returned from overseas from stressing out over issues they shouldn't.
We put our country and the American people before ourselves, can you not return the favor and for eight semesters and put us before you?
Matthew Bellittiere is an Eden resident.