A recent change to the Post 9/11 GI Bill is making it harder to pay the bills for many veterans.
For years the Montgomery GI Bill has provided some financial security for veterans who seek higher education upon finishing their tours of duty. The bill aims to pay a veteran’s college tuition, fees, books and the cost of living in the area they are going to school, all with the intention to reintegrate them into the community. Starting Aug. 1, 2011, the bill temporarily restricted the highly valuable funding known as “break pay,” a provision that helped pay for the cost of living in between semesters and during other breaks.
“The sudden [nature] of the break pay cuts left a lot of veterans out in the cold,” said Moses Maddox, a former Marine and certifying official at Palomar College that focuses on GI Bill benefits. “Our enrollment actually decreased from last semester to this semester. There’s a myriad of reasons why people cease attendance, but whenever there’s a cut in pay, there’s a drop in people attending [on the GI Bill].”
According to Maddox however, a trip to Washington D.C. from March 26-30 for an event called Storm the Hill, brought the news that the pay was cut for the foreseeable future.
Storm the Hill is an annual event organized by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
”Veterans don’t have a lobby group,” Maddox said. “So once a year we get together and we take on 12,000 lobbyists. One of the things we talked to them about was break pay. Bottom line is break pay is not coming back. It is a time of economic downturn and the bottom line is that nationally, break pay costs $3 billion a year. We’re expensive children.”
Despite the possible financial benefits of cutting what was deemed an expensive entitlement for the country, many veterans who relied on the money to cover the cost of living are struggling to find ways to balance their personal budgets.
“I’m just thankful I’m married to a Marine,” said 26-year-old Marine Corps veteran Christopher Narvaez. “She’s also on the GI Bill. Without her, I would never be able to live out here. I would have to sell my car, move into a studio apartment or maybe in with roommates, because just $1,866 [a month] is not enough to pay for everything. Rent alone out here is about $1,400, which leaves about $400 left for food and then you’re broke: no internet, no cable, no car, no gas, nothing.”
At the event, Maddox said Sen. Patty Murray, the Chairwoman of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee, explained the nature of current budget prioritization. Though the GI Bill has long been considered off limits in terms of cuts, federal lawmakers have been forced to look at everything as “almost a business” in an effort to stabilize an already aching economy.
“The fact is that even with break pay getting cut, [veterans] are still getting a monthly stipend,” Maddox said. “They’re still getting tuition and fees paid. There are many students that would kill to be in that position. As a representative of veterans, it’s my job to let their voice be heard. When I do become that voice, part of it is to say ‘this is their response.’”
According to Maddox, the quiet reaction from those hit is a testament to the maturity and the sense of “taking one for the team” that veterans possess. Though it is becoming harder for veterans to afford to go to school, Maddox said they are still valuable additions to any campus.
“In the military, you live in a world that’s very pinpoint and [decisive],” Maddox said. “College isn’t like that. The people in college aren’t like that. You might have some people who are, but for the most part, everyone’s trying to figure that out. Many veterans aren’t trying to figure themselves out. If you get shot at once or twice, you tend to figure out who you are pretty quickly.”