Brenda Haines (Full letter)

Just a few weeks ago, students at Youngstown State University were in danger of not receiving their much-anticipated financial aid and scholarship money due to an impending faculty strike. Faced with the fact that the strike would cause harm to students, the faculty union withdrew its intent to strike so the students could get paid. Unfortunately, not all of them did. Those left without a paycheck to buy books, tuition and living expenses were the enrolled veterans of the U.S. military, all because of a new process at YSU.

This new procedure, which began during the summer session, requires GI Bill recipients to carry a form from class to class, asking their professors to place their signature on it to verify they were in attendance. According to a letter mailed to YSU veteran students, the form serves as proof that veterans have begun attending classes.

The letter reads, “Please be advised that YSU must verify your attendance in all of your scheduled classes before [GI Bill payment] will be applied to your student account.”

Normally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sends payment to the veteran’s university on the student’s behalf before the start of the semester. Whatever surplus is left over after tuition and fees are deducted is then forwarded to the veteran student in the same manner as financial aid and other awards. Other entitlements that the veteran may receive directly from the VA include money for books and a housing allowance, both of which can be delayed as well now because of the new certification requirement.

According to the VA, it is up to each individual school to implement policies for handling the disbursement of funds to veterans.

What this means for these students, former service members, war heroes and defenders of the nation’s freedom, is that they have to endure a financial hardship at the start of the semester. While most students are receiving their financial aid money to pay their tuition, books, rent, utilities and other expenses, veterans are struggling with the decision to request a last-minute loan from the school while awaiting VA payment.

For some of these non-traditional students, earning a degree full time means not working full-time hours, and they shouldn’t have to with the way the new GI Bill benefits work.

In addition to the financial hardship this creates for those veterans, it also causes the students’ right to privacy to be violated.

Instead of being able to blend in with the traditional students in their classes, veterans now have to approach their professor following their first class, introduce themselves as a veteran and request a signature on the form. The result can be detrimental to the student as some veterans may wish to keep this information private to not create a predisposed opinion of them from their professors or other students.

So why the new singling-out process? The YSU Office of Student Accounts and University Receivables claims it was implemented to protect the student service member and the university. How, exactly, is unclear. It is the responsibility of the veteran to attend classes and achieve a final grade, the same way it is for those receiving scholarships, grants and student loans. If the student later drops the classes or receives an incomplete, money paid for those classes will need to be repaid. Veterans would have to pay this debt to the VA’s Debt Management Center, not to YSU, whereas financial aid money and scholarships require being returned directly to the university.

In short, YSU, which has been deemed “veteran-friendly” by GI Jobs magazine, is receiving funds from the VA and holding onto them for no apparent reason. Just because a student attends the first day of classes is no guarantee that he or she will not drop the course or stop attending completely, so this form serves no purpose other than to allow YSU to hold onto the students’ money a bit longer, making the veteran work even harder to receive payment and adjust to civilian life.