A Tolleson veteran says the GI Bill got him a great education at Grand Canyon University but also got him a huge unexpected bill.
The issue has to do with the housing allowance the Veterans Administration (VA) gives veterans while they're in school. The allowance is less for online students than it is for ground students - those who actually go on campus for classes. If you start out as ground and switch to online, you better make sure the VA is properly notified.
After Jermaine Paul was discharged from the Navy, he enrolled at Grand Canyon University (GCU) in early 2009. Under the GI Bill, the VA paid for his tuition and also provided housing stipends. Paul believed he understood how the housing allowance worked.
"During my initial enrollment at the university, they consisted of an even across-the-board stipend whether you were online or ground," Paul said.
Paul began as a ground-campus student but switched to online at the end of 2009. In October 2011, the VA changed policy and started paying what Paul believed was a lesser stipend to online students. Since he had already told GCU about the change back in 2009, Paul says it was the school's responsibility to notify the VA so his stipend would be reduced. But months later he was still getting the same amount.
"I let it go for months at a time and just kept hoping that someone would take care of it," Paul said.
No one did. After Paul graduated in 2012, he received a letter saying he owed the VA $17,000 in allowance overpayments. He doesn't know where that amount came from.
"I basically got sent back from the VA to Grand Canyon, from Grand Canyon to the VA, no one wanted to handle this problem," Paul said.
Paul wants other veterans to learn from the mistakes he made at the time he switched to online. He said when he never got a confirmation of his phone call to GCU, he should have contacted the VA.
"To make sure they should be expecting to hear something from the school in the next few days about the change that was made," Paul said.
The VA provided CBS 5 News some clarification on the matter. It turns out Paul misunderstood the allowance from the beginning. Prior to October 2011, online students were not entitled to receive an amount equal to ground students, as Paul thought. Online students got no allowance at all. An online student allowance only began in October 2011 and it was half the ground student amount.
Paul is now stuck with the huge bill, but he still wants others to learn from his mistakes.
If you are an Arizona veteran on the GI Bill, switching from a campus to an online student, know for sure that your housing allowance will decrease by half. If you don't see the drop after the first or second month, contact the VA right away so you don't end up owing Uncle Sam a lot of money.
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