Veteran owes thousands of dollars for a bill he thought was covered by the government
GI bill changed in 2011
Last Updated: 122 days ago
SAN DIEGO - A veteran called Team 10 after he had to drop out of college because of a bill for thousands of dollars that he thought was covered by the government.
Noah Kelley told Team 10 he feels let down by the college and the veterans' center. He worries that thousands of other veterans returning home will run into this same problem.
Now, his life is on hold as he works to pay down the bill.
Kelley joined the Marine Corps at 17 and said his mother had to sign a waiver allowing him to serve.
“You know the whole saying with mothers – you can do anything you want – that's her to a 'T,'" said Kelley.
He left Flint, Mich. in 2003 for boot camp in San Diego. He spent four years at Camp Pendleton and four years at Miramar.
After eight years, he was ready to re-enter civilian life and use his education benefits to go to college.
"I figured the benefits were there so I might as well use them," said Kelley.
He returned to Flint and enrolled in the University of Michigan.
"I was taught that any college that would accept me and accept my grade point average, my tuition would be paid for," said Kelley.
He attended the University of Michigan and was there for four semesters.
Kelley said classes were going well but life was tough. He said his mother had small cell cancer.
"She was going downhill real quick, bed all the time, she wasn't herself anymore," said Kelley.
Kelley said she still pushed him to return to San Diego.
"She's like, 'You need to live your life.' She's like, 'You need to go where your life is,'" said Kelley.
He moved back to San Diego and enrolled at Cuymaca College.
Kelley said he met with a counselor at the college and the veterans' center at the college. He enrolled in classes and finished the semester.
"Then, I find out when I go to re-register for classes for the next year that I have this gigantic balance," said Kelley.
He thought he was covered by his benefits and he went back to the veterans' center at Cuyamaca College.
"They kind of just one-sentence explained it to me … that's the way the GI Bill is now," said Kelley.
Starting in 2011, the GI Bill covers the full cost of tuition at a public university at in-state tuition rates, but not the additional money schools charge out-of-state students.
Kelley's benefits covered $600 a semester – what it would cost a California resident.
Kelley said since he is considered out-of-state he owes $2,400.
He said the college would not do a payment plan and said he should have known about the change.
"I'm most upset about the college handled it," said Kelley. "I think I should have been told up front I owed money. That's what the veterans' center is there for."
During all of this and his mother's death, Kelley then got a letter saying he made the college vice president's honor list for getting straight As.
He said it was like a slap in the face.
"Good job, but you still owe us all this money," said Kelley.
He has contacted Rep. Duncan Hunter, whose office let him know about GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013.
Kelley said veterans would be considered in-state residents no matter where they are accepted.
"I know it's not just me," he said. "I didn't even know it could happen until it happened to me."
Hunter said, "The most direct course of action will be a federal fix, ensuring veterans are treated fairly and with appreciation for their service. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be a cosponsor the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act, legislation to address this problem, and I am urging all my colleagues to get behind this important bill."
Cuyamaca College said they will work with Kelley after being contacted by Team 10.
They released the following statement:
We're very proud to have about 500 veterans attending Cuyamaca College. We work very closely with our veterans to ensure they have the best educational experience possible.
Current state law allows community colleges to waive non-resident fees for veterans for a year after they are discharged from service. Mr. Kelley was not eligible for the waiver because he had been discharged more than a year before he began at Cuyamaca College. AB13, now before the California Legislature, would extend residency waivers for veterans from one to two years after they complete their service. We hope this bill will be enacted to assist Mr. Kelley and other veterans.
The Veterans Administration paid Mr. Kelley's fees that would be charged for California residents, but he was obligated to pay the remaining portion of his fees. He was provided information on WebAdvisor, the student portal, about his fees, and was sent an e-mail in February 2013 notifying him about the fees still owed. We are very sorry that he was not aware he would be responsible for paying the non-resident fees.
We will be working with Mr. Kelley to do everything we can to assist him in continuing his education.
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