(This was written by a Veteran who served in Iraq with Pat. It explains some of the additional shortcomings that Veterans face upon returning to civilian life.)
"Several times I think how I sacrificed my freedoms in Iraq just for someone to not care and then I wonder if it’s worth it."
It is wrong for our government to publicly offer our active military and Veterans benefits and not provide them. Zach Jones a Veteran from Wisconsin publically wrote and stated: “I identify that they’ve got me on a technicality,” Jones said. “But it’s against the intent and overall purpose of the GI Bill, and the VA likes to use bureaucratic technicalities to deny veterans benefits.” (Luhan)
Many Veterans join the military for education benefits, medical benefits, and job benefit opportunities; however Veterans always have to remind the government and Veterans Affairs that Veterans earned these benefits.
One benefit is the Veterans Affairs work study program that provides Veterans with a job while in school. The work study program is short changing its Veterans.
Another benefit that Veterans Affairs is failing on is its service connected disability and health services. Many Veterans are leaving our military with disabilities that affect their everyday lives; many of these disabilities prevent Veterans from working and living normal lives.
Many people join the military for benefits that will help them to succeed in life. The most common benefit that draws people to enlist into the military is the G.I. Bill. The G.I. Bill is an education tuition assistance program to help you get through college. There are many different kinds of G.I. Bills that are offered to service members. If you are in the military reserves under Chapter 1606, you get paid less for college than persons that serve on active duty. Persons serving on active duty get more benefits under Chapter 30; however they have to pay one hundred dollars per month for twelve months while serving. Another kind of G.I. Bill is Chapter 1607 that is for Veterans that fight in the Iraq and Afghanistan war. The monthly pay rate is more than the Reserve G.I. Bill, however less than benefits Active Duty components receives.
One factor the military recruiter fails to tell you that most people do not use these benefits. This is because the system makes its hard for you to receive these benefits.
One example is Halsey Bernard, a Veteran from California and he says:
"What they tell you on TV and what the recruiters tell you when you go to sign up is: 'Don't worry. College is taken care of.' And it is not true," said Bernard. "Today it is a serious financial struggle and bureaucratic struggle and personal struggle to try to go to college after serving in combat." (Sennott)
By doing this I believe that our government fails to help Veterans. The government fails for many reasons, one reason is because the Veterans Affairs makes you wait for your money and people have to make meet scheduled bills on time.
Another reason the government fails its Veterans is because the Veterans Affairs changes the way it manages its payment distributing. This provides hardships on Veterans expecting monthly education payments and not receiving them on time. Many Veterans have to spend several days tracking people down and making phone calls just to get their benefits. When the Veteran is finally able to get someone to fix his problem he then has to wait several weeks for a payment.
I have experienced this several times to the point that I don’t even want to file for my benefit. This gets frustrating for Veterans and their family because of sacrifices made for life freedoms and these benefits. Several times I think how I sacrificed my freedoms in Iraq just for someone to not care and then I wonder if it’s worth it.
Why should someone join the military if they can’t even receive what is owed to them when asking for it? When they asked me to go to Iraq, when they wanted me to go, I never said wait a few months when the war is over or lost.
When you are receiving the G.I. Bill you are also eligible to participate in the work study program. The work study program provides a job for Veterans going to school. You are able to work twenty five hours a week and receive tax free money along with your G.I. Bill. I tried this program and it doesn’t work as well as I thought it would. The Veterans Administration should have a work study responsible for student turning in the hours. Veterans on work study worked and they always forget to turn it in for processing or wouldn’t be at work at the time it needed to be turned in. When the Veteran finally locates the work study that is suppose to process and turn in the Veterans work hours to the Veterans Administration finance office in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The Veteran finds out they are not getting paid and the Veteran has to deal directly with the office in Muskogee. Many times the finance office in Muskogee would hang up on you when you would call inquiring about pay. Then they would lose your documents and the Veteran would have to resubmit them.
As a result the Veteran has to resubmit the work hours to Muskogee and process them again and search for the work study that processes the paper work all over again. Zach Jones knows how this process works and couldn’t describe it any better: “I’ve been through the process several times now,” Jones said. “The federal GI Bill for me and most people I know is an uphill battle. … It’s a horrible process in general.” (Luhan)
When the Veteran doesn’t get paid on time and he has bills to pay he gets late fees. By the Veteran having to pay late fees on bills defeats the purpose of the benefit. The work study benefit is hindering and exhausting its Veterans. A good example is how the Veterans work study program has cheated me. During the summer and fall semester of 2007, I work five hundred hours and was paid for only three hundred hours. I was so sick of having to deal with the bureaucracy that I gave up on fighting for the money I earned. Veterans like me just decide it’s less stressful to find a regular job then deal with the work study bureaucracy, many end up leaving college and stop pursuing their goals.
Another benefit that is available to Veterans is a service connection disability. A service connected disability is a financial compensation that is given to a veteran for a disability that has been acquired during the Veterans time while on active duty. Some Veterans lose a limbs, hearing, traumatic brain injury, and have psychological problems that leave them so severely disabled that they cannot work or even cope in the civilian world. So the Veterans Affairs gives them a compensation to live on. The process of getting compensation can take up to a year and a half to process. During the process of acquiring the compensation, the Veteran usually has no other income for financial support. Many of these Veterans go homeless along with their families without anyone taking notice. Good example is Nicole Smith who is a Veteran from Washington D.C., she stated:
"When I first got back I just wanted to jump into a job and forget about Iraq, but the culture shock from the military to the civilian world hit me," she says. "I was depressed for months. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. The worst thing wasn't the war, it was coming back, because nobody understood why I was the way I was." (Marks)
Nicole Smith obviously needed to transition into the civilian world and could not work. She should be eligible for compensation and given time to acclimate into the civilian world. But by the time Nicole would be able to get approved for this benefit she could easily be living on the streets. To avoid people having to live on the streets the Veterans Affairs should put a decision board in each Veterans Affairs hospital to stream line the decision process, and award compensation quickly before the Veteran gets lost in the system and to society.
I believe that the Veterans Affairs has good intentions but the Veterans Affairs is being managed wrong and abusing our Veterans. We need to be able to take care of our Veterans not just the bureaucrats that run the Veterans Administration. The media is always telling our Veterans how much they are appreciated and yet they have to deal with these situations.
The media doesn’t even realize the problems Veterans have to deal with regards to the Veterans Administration. If they did that would be a major exposure of government failure in itself.
Our Veterans are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country's benefit. Our country should do the same for them when it is needed.
Ronald Perez - Iraq Veteran
written July 2008