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NVCC veterans await benefits

Update: I spoke to one of the more than 100 veterans awaiting GI Bill benefits to study on the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College. See her comments farther down in the post.

More than 100 military veterans who attend Northern Virginia Community College have yet to receive their GI Bill benefits for study and living expenses because of a backlog at the school's Alexandria campus, according to its provost.

An estimated 460,000 student veterans are receiving benefits this year under a new Post-9/11 GI Bill, which took effect Aug. 1. The law covers housing and books as well as in-state tuition at public institutions.

Viola Tovar, a former Veterans Affairs administrator at the Alexandria campus, told me she had worked in the office where veterans apply for their GI Bill benefits until last month, when she left because of an excessive workload. She said that as recently as last week, at least 130 veterans studying at the Alexandria campus had not been certified under the bill and thus had not received their benefits. She said the job of VA adviser, the person responsible for certifying veterans to receive benefits each semester, has been vacant since August has been filled sporadically and on a temporary basis since then. This, she says, is why so many veterans have not yet received their benefits for the term that began Jan. 11.

Peter Maphumulo, provost of the Alexandria campus, largely confirmed Tovar's account. The overworked adviser "was the only person left who had the qualifications and the certifications to certify the veterans benefits and the family benefits" under the bill, he said. The job normally requires three people. For several months, the staff has been depleted to one.

"it's true, and it's regrettable, and I do not want to equivocate with you," Maphumulo said. "I am sorry that we were not able to foresee the backlogs. The veterans and their families need these benefits."

Nathaniel and Monique Dumas of Woodbridge are among the NVCC students awaiting funding. He is studying biology, she psychology, both full-time, both reliant on GI Bill benefits to pay nearly $4,000 in combined tuition and about $1,500 in monthly housing costs.

"We live off of that," Monique Dumas said. "We're able to pay our rent and provide our children," ages 2 and 3. "I just think they should respect us enough to give us what we deserve."

She works a 16-hour shift every Saturday to help support the family. He works a 17-hour shift on Sundays. They have been waiting for their veterans benefits since January. Both served in the Air Force. He wants to be a doctor, she a forensic psychologist.

"We really do count on that money, we deserve it, and I really don't know what's going on," she said.

While part of the problem at NVCC may have been poor planning, the school is also coping with seemingly impossible budgetary constraints, the provost said. State funding has declined by one-fifth in the past two years. Enrollment has grown by one-fifth in the same span. Two people offered the GI Bill job turned it down, he said, because it paid less than $50,000 a year, a comparatively modest sum to make a living in Alexandria.

Maphumulo said there are now three people certifying benefits, two of them newly hired. He said processing has begun on all of the backlogged students. The campus has about 400 veterans in all, he said.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  March 3, 2010; 8:27 AM ET
Categories:  Access , Administration , Aid , Community Colleges , Finance , Public policy , Publics  | Tags: GI Bill, NVCC  
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Hmmm, I'm a little unclear on something This article states the school has an office where vets certify eligibility; this seems a little misleading. I submitted my form directly to the VA and received an eligibility certificate (which is provided to the school). I know the school has to certify enrollment in order get the benes but I question whether they determine eligibilty. Plausibly the article is implying the school has not verfified enrollment but I question whether they determine eligibility. I doubt if the person that quit was an actual VA employee postioned at the school more than likely an school employee processing VA actions. I would just tell the vets to get the eligibiity certificate direcltly from the VA. But then again the school still has a role in order to get the actual benefit.

Posted by: crazyeagle | March 4, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

The VA can be rough to get bennifits due to us vetrans. I enrolled in the College and really was disapointed with the staff, parking fees, and overall disrespect from the staff toward me as I attempted to obtain a degree. Well I'm the type of personal who will not deal with substandard service at a high price. After parking fees books and stress of staff who seem to be there only to collect a pay check I said I will be attending a College who wants to offer me an education.

Posted by: davidhickson | March 4, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I was not confused by the article. I know Viola Tovar, the VA benefits advisor. Ms Tovar is a retired Marine and it does not surprise me that she was able and willing to do the work normally assigned to three people for so long. Perhaps if they paid a reasonable wage she might have stayed and we could honor our commitments to veterans. This is shameful!

Posted by: lrcharest | March 5, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

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