STUDENT VETERAN: “God Answers my Prayers Faster Than the VA Answers my Phone Calls”

After running around combat zones fighting bloody and violent military campaigns in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, many veterans are coming home to begin their education using their benefits under the post-9/11 G.I. Bill. But many student vets report getting the runaround from the very organization designated to take care of them, the VA. Veteran students employed by the VA’s work-study program say they are often forced to wait up to 10 months for the VA to pay them for their work. Others who attend college using their VA benefits report frequent delays by VA to reimburse them for their education expenses. The dropout and suicide rate among veteran students has been widely reported to be disproportionately high compared to non-veteran students. VA estimates 6,500 veterans are dying from suicide annually. (Tim Wimborne/Reuters)

‘I Can’t Afford to Live Like This’: VA Weeks, Months Late Paying Student Veterans

by Bill Briggs
NBC News, Sept. 2, 2012

Student veterans hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to help fellow ex-service members transition into college have routinely waited four to six weeks — and, in one case, four months — for unpaid wages, prompting eviction worries and mounting debt, according to a survey of program members obtained by NBC News.

Ashley Metcalf, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan — and the student veteran who organized the survey of other VA “work-study” employees at 18 campuses — said he’s been living on credit cards since June and was forced to obtain an emergency loan because the VA has failed to compensate him for about 100 hours he’s logged in the VA program. 

“How can this happen? If I was working for McDonald’s and they said they’re not going to pay me for 10 weeks, I’d have a lawsuit,” said Metcalf, an Air Force veteran now enrolled at the University of Colorado Denver.

“We’re not asking for a raise or for extra benefits. We’re just asking the VA to do what it said it would do: pay us on time,” Metcalf said. “Coming back home, trying to figure out mentally how to transition into college life and then not getting paid?

It’s way too much of a stress for people who are possibly already on edge.”

A voicemail left Monday by NBC News with the VA media relations office was not returned. According to the VA website, the “work-study allowance” is available through the post-9/11 GI Bill.

Student veterans employed by the program earn the minimum wage from the VA for devoting hours to specified, on-campus jobs such as “providing assistance to veteran students with general inquiries about veteran benefits,” the site says, adding: “VA will pay you each time you complete 50 hours of service.”

But Metcalf’s survey found VA work-study employees at five campuses who reported waiting one month to two months for payments — and a student in North Dakota who was not compensated for four months. (Among the 18 schools represented in the survey were Texas A&M, Florida State and the University of Kentucky).

Survey participants also revealed that a number of student veterans have quit their work-study jobs due to the chronic payment delays, hamstringing veteran-services departments at some campuses. 

“I usually have 100 hours logged before I get paid for 50. For any other job I would find this to be a reason to quit,” one student veteran replied to the survey.

“It is mind boggling to think that I work 50 hours, submit my form and have to wait almost a month to get paid for it. I’m married with a kid on the way. Please just pay me already!!!” wrote another.

A second dominant survey theme: rising anger over the VA’s lack communications — and its failure to provide basic answers as to why faxed time sheets take weeks or months to process and pay. Many survey respondents described numerous unreturned voice mails and unanswered e-mails from VA officials.  

“God answers my prayers faster than the VA answers my phone calls,” complained one student veteran. 

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