23 August 2012
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
Hello, my name is Joe Snuffy and I am a Specialist in the United States Army National Guard. I am an almost 7 year veteran of the Army as well as both an Iraq (2007-2009) and Afghanistan (2011-2012) combat veteran. I am deployed in northern Afghanistan as I write this letter right now but I am hoping to be home by the time it gets to your mailbox. I am writing to you today to express my concerns over the Post 9/11 (Chapter 33) Montgomery G.I. Bill. I am a senior at Eastern Michigan University majoring in Exercise Science (B.S.), aspiring to continue my education by pursuing a Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy. My educational and career goal is to work within the Veteran's Affairs (VA) healthcare system as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, assisting my fellow veterans to improve their health and quality of life. However, I believe flaws with the way that the Chapter 33 G.I. Bill operates will keep me from this goal. I want to share my issues with you and I do hope to hear back from you.
First and foremost is the tiered eligibility percentage system that determines how much of my tuition will be paid for and how much I will receive as a housing allowance as well as determining the book stipend. This system is flawed – it is very cut and dry with the tiers and unless it is changed to prorate percentages in the future, it devalues my months of service. Assuming I return back home by the time my orders for this current deployment are up, I will have 28 months and 10 days of active duty military service, including basic training. I qualify for 80% of Chapter 33 benefits according to the eligibility charts because I have served at least 24 months of active duty time but I have not served enough time to reach the 30 month tier for 90%. The VA allows a veteran to count active duty time for basic training and AIT once they reach 24 months of eligibility, but if my eligibility is not prorated for an amount in between 80% and 90%, why even count active duty time for basic training and AIT? I still will only receive 80% eligibility. I understand some veterans have longer AIT periods that would perhaps push them into a new tier of eligibility but for those of us who had relatively short AIT periods, why not prorate the eligibility to an amount in between, 85% in my case? An even better system for determining an eligibility percentage would be to place values on each month of service in between the tiers cut-off amounts. I believe we should prorate eligibility in between the tiers, for example, a veteran with 25 months of service would receive 82% or with 26 months of service, would receive 84%, etc. This system would maximize eligibility for veterans without devaluing their active duty service time.
Furthermore, I do believe annual training for National Guardsmen needs to be included in the eligibility calculations. Let me tell you why: I enlisted in 2006 and returned from basic training and Infantry AIT in the fall of 2006. Almost immediately my unit was alerted for deployment to Iraq and began our train up phase which culminated in two, three-week annual training periods for 2007: three weeks in August (AT for fiscal year 2007) and another three weeks at the end of September (AT for fiscal year 2008). We then moved to our mobilization station and deployed to Iraq after. The same scenario occurred prior to our deployment to Afghanistan: we had two, three-week annual training periods back to back (AT for fiscal year 2011 and AT for fiscal year 2012) prior to being placed on Title 10 orders for mobilization training. I have been gone from my home and family since September 2nd of 2011 even though my Title 10 orders did not start until October 16th, 2011. Why is that service not honored when calculating G.I. Bill eligibility? I have spent over half of my 6 year career on active duty training for deployments or deployed. I have spent many more months on annual training crammed together prior to a deployment. I firmly believe that annual training periods, especially those strung together prior to a deployment, should be considered for Chapter 33 G.I. Bill eligibility calculations. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback on this topic.
The second issue I would like to discuss is the method by which Chapter 33 G.I. Bill benefits are paid, specifically the tuition payments. Currently, when tabulating payments to the university, the G.I. Bill is paid last. Scholarships, grants, and student loans are paid towards the bill balance first. The remaining balance (if any) is then paid by the Chapter 33 G.I. Bill. This means that if my tuition bill were to be $4000 and I have $3000 in scholarships, grants, and student loans available, they would pay first and then I would receive 80% towards the remaining balance. On a bill of $4000, the G.I. Bill would only pay $800 and still leave me with an out of pocket expense of $200. This is assuming that I would be able to secure so much additional financial aid. What I believe should happen is that the Chapter 33 G.I. Bill pays first: using the same situation, on a bill of $4000, the G.I. Bill should pay 80% or $3200 of my bill, leaving $800 for me to secure financial aid for or pay out of pocket. This is a much better situation for veterans and I hope that you will look into trying to change this aspect of the G.I. Bill.
The last issue I would like to discuss is the way that classes are covered by the G.I. Bill. This is not just a Chapter 33 issue; it affects all versions of the G.I. Bill. Prior to deploying to Afghanistan, I used the Chapter 1607 (REAP) G.I. Bill because it offered more money for school than the Chapter 33 bill did. The issue I ran into in school was that the G.I. Bill only covers classes required to graduate within the major/minor plan set forth by the university. You are not allowed to use G.I. Bill classes to take prerequisite classes for post-graduate schoolwork. This results in many problems: if the class I need is a prerequisite for post-graduate work and the G.I. Bill will not cover it, I risk both dropping below full-time enrollment for financial aid via the FAFSA system and I also risk dropping below full-time enrollment through the VA for the G.I. Bill. On a few occasions in the past, I have elected to not use my G.I. Bill at all for the semester because too many of my classes were not approved because I did not “need” them. I had to pay out of pocket for the semester and/or rely on private student loans. I could have used the G.I. Bill on a “halftime” or “quarter-time” basis but as far as I am concerned, that is a waste of a month of G.I. Bill eligibility, especially for me as I am seeking to pursue 3 more years of education after my undergraduate work is complete. This problem can also affect veterans in other ways: a veteran using his or her spouse's or parent's healthcare insurance plan may be required to be enrolled as a full-time student. When the G.I. Bill does not cover prerequisite classes, veterans may have to drop below full-time enrollment in order to still use the G.I. Bill to pay for school which may result in them being dropped from the insurance plan. This is a problem that needs to be resolved.
Mr. President, I know you are busy but I also know that you care about veterans. I hope you will take the time to read my letter, look into the issues that I have discussed, and work with the Department of Veteran's Affairs as well as Congress in order to fix these problems. I would very much like to hear back from you. I look forward to reading your response. Thank you for your time.