Senior advertising major Tim Brutsman served in the Marine Corps from 2008-2016. He and his wife are expecting their first child.
He plans to graduate in May, but he may have to do so without money he was guaranteed in his Goverment Issue contract.
Student veterans are supposed to receive monthly checks from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but some students received incorrect payments, or none at all.
Brutsman’s monthly payment was supposed to come Oct. 1, but he received it Nov. 18. Brutsman’s check totals $2,000 a month, and he will not be paid back for the money he missed.
Brutsman said he was on the verge of taking out personal loans while awaiting the money he was owed.
“If this happens again, and I have to take out loans, I will not get paid back [money for loans],” he said. Brutsman estimates he would need $6,000 in personal loans.
The VA said missed payments were the result of a computer error, which may not be corrected until Spring 2019, according to Special Programs Coordinator for Veterans and Graduate Students Paul Loretto.
Loretto said more than 100 students receive benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which grants tuition funds and housing stipends to veterans who are eligible.
“That benefit is meant to pay rent, pay bills. The GI Bill basically states ‘this is your job, go to college, be a student and we will pay you to do that so you can move forward with little issue,’” Loretto said. “The intent of the VA is always good, but sometimes these things happen because it is the government; it is another branch that is not as well-funded as some other branches.”
While the payment challenges could be affecting thousands of veterans nationwide, Loretto said very few experienced problems at Columbia due to the college following best practices and thinking ahead.
Loretto said he tries to send veteran enrollment information earlier each year to avoid problems, which helped Columbia students receive the benefits in a timely manner despite the VA’s software glitch.
Loretto said he was able to assist students who had problems receiving their payments and help them get advances on student financial aid funds and help explain the situation to landlords or others who were owed money.
Loretto said some students came to him if they had any concerns about missed or incorrect payments.
“I was very happy they did because that means they’re not afraid to come up and communicate with us,” Loretto said. “We’re all married or divorced, pay alimony or have children or families or other very unique situations. We have plenty of students that fall under those categories, but for that very specific population, they’re relying on this benefit to help them pay the bills.”
Junior fine art and photography major Peter Costas served three deployments with the Navy from 2011-2016, and did not miss any payments recently. Costas said if he would have missed payments, or if he misses payments in the future, he may face homelessness.
“A lot of people view the benefits we receive as a privilege, when really it’s our right,” Costas said. “We were willing to die for the country. It takes a toll.”
While the VA has said it plans to repay students any money owed, Loretto said he will continue to monitor monthly payments with students to ensure they are getting what they need.
“Students have a lot to stress out about. Let’s try to make [their] bill not one of those things,” Loretto said. “When it comes down to April and May and you’re squeezing out those finals, you don’t want to be dealing with a hold.”