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VA gives Navy veteran a break on GI Bill rates

Sep. 16, 2011 - 10:13AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 16, 2011 - 10:13AM  |  
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The Veterans Affairs Department has changed its mind about whether a Navy veteran enrolled in New York University's School of Law will be protected from the new reduced Post-9/11 GI Bill rates that took effect Aug. 1.

After first telling Iraq War veteran Garen Marshall that it would pay no more than $17,500 of his estimated $50,000 annual law school costs, VA re-evaluated its rules and decided he would be grandfathered at 2010 reimbursement rates of $1,010 per credit hour in tuition and fees, which will cover most of his cost.

Marshall, a former Navy explosive ordnance technician, said he is glad VA took another look at his benefits because he was going to be forced to spend money he had been saving toward buying a home when he was caught in a gap caused by a change in benefits that took effect earlier this year.

"I expect this to make a significant difference for my future," Marshall said. "Knowing that I had the Post-9/11 GI Bill to rely on was a big factor in my deciding to attend law school. When I first heard that my benefits were being cut, it was a shock. The possibility of exhausting my savings or taking on large amounts of debt to pay my tuition wasn't something I had planned for."

Marshall fell into a previously unexamined loophole caused by an overhaul of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that took effect in January, when VA switched from a system of state-by-state tuition and fee caps based on the highest public school rates in each state to a nationwide reimbursement cap for both private college and university fees of $17,500.

The national cap is lower than the old state limits for several states, including New York, but Congress moved in August to protect students in those states by allowing those already enrolled in private colleges and university to continue receiving 2010 tuition and fee payments.

To qualify for rate protection, veterans must have been enrolled in a school before Jan. 4, and must not have changed schools.

Marshall's case was unusual because he was still attending Baruch College in New York when he applied to and was accepted into law school. That initially led VA to rule that he was not eligible for grandfathered rates because he had switched schools.

After Marshall's plight came to the attention of senior VA officials and congressional staff, VA officials took a closer look at the law and decided that Marshall qualified for rate protection.

Marshall said he appreciated VA's willingness to take another look at his claim, and hopes other veterans benefit from a clarification.

In addition to New York, GI Bill rate protection for private college and universities applies to students in Arizona, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas.

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