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GI Bill students surprised when living stipend stops between semesters

Feb. 28, 2012 - 02:58PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 28, 2012 - 02:58PM  |  
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Breaks between college terms have become tough on some students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, they say, because they no longer receive living stipends during those periods.

The change is costing former soldier Luke DiRaimo, an Afghanistan veteran attending Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y., about $8,000 over the course of a full school year, he said.

"I'm an honorably discharged veteran who served in the infantry. I did my part; now it seems like the government is going back on promises it made me in my contract when I enlisted," said DiRaimo, 24, who wants to become a geologist.

He is one of the thousands of veterans hurt by a policy that took effect Aug. 1 that terminates GI Bill benefits on the day a term ends and doesn't restart them until the next term begins. The length of such breaks varies from school to school but typically can last three weeks over the winter recess or several months over the summer.

This new policy applies to all veterans education benefits but is felt most by Post-9/11 GI Bill users who are receiving monthly living stipends, based on military housing allowance rates, to cover rent and other expenses.

The end of so-called "break pay" or "interval pay" was an essential element of a package of changes in the Post-9/11 GI Bill that was approved by Congress in 2010 and took effect last year. The $2 billion in estimated savings from halting the living stipends during term breaks was used to pay for an expansion of benefits under the program, to include for student veterans at private colleges and universities.

Tom Tarantino of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said he knows the rule is hurting veterans because it is difficult to find short-term employment in a tight job market to cover the time between terms.

But he said there is little hope of the policy being changed soon because fixing it would require finding $2 billion to cover the expanded benefits.

"This is a bad situation all around, and we were in shock to see this in the bill when it passed the Senate," Tarantino said.

"We get a pretty steady stream of complaints about this, and we want to do something, but the reality is that this is not a good time to be asking Congress to increase something," he said. "We are still going to keep pushing it and we also are starting to look at innovative solutions to help veterans who depend on this money."

Tarantino said that with planning, some students can make it through a three-week winter break with no stipend — some with savings and others by arranging temporary jobs.

The longer summer break could be more problematic for some people, however.

Tarantino said one idea that could help veterans is the creation of local job banks using school employment services.

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