SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - In just a few weeks, several local veterans who are enrolled in the vocational college called the California Institute of Arts & Technology (CIAT) are scheduled to lose about two-thirds of their housing funds.
“I spent one entire year in Afghanistan,” student and Army veteran Dru Macasieb told ABC 10News. “I was a hospital corpsman,” added fellow student and Navy veteran Trevis Zetina-Richards.
They are two of the 21 veteran students who are most impacted. With their GI bill benefits, they've been getting monthly COVID-related housing allowances that give them nearly $3,000 a month. However, soon the rate will only be good for students who are taking classes in-person, not online. The issue is that CIAT has decided to continue with online-only classes in January.
The college will not being doing in-person instruction which means that the housing allowance rate for these veterans will drop to about $800 a month. Zetina-Richards stated, “[We] can't afford to lose any money because rent is so high. Gas is so high. When buying food is so high."
Macasieb added, “I don't like how veterans are being treated or the stigma of this is 'free money,' because it's not 'free money'. I have buddies of mine that can't use it because they died.”
“Students are getting penalized because of the 'sunsetting' of the provision that allowed veteran students the resident rate while learning online during COVID,” said CIAT President Jamie Doyle. He told ABC 10News that the college went virtual at the start of the pandemic and decided last month to stick with a virtual-only model, citing safety concerns, among other reasons. “It was a difficult decision because we knew there would be many people that wouldn't be happy with it but we also know that sometimes you have to make difficult decisions that don't please people because it's the right thing to do,” he added.
He's being blamed by veterans who say that the college is ignoring their needs, but Doyle said that the college is doing its best with providing additional resources and support. “The fact is [that] we stand to lose a lot of students because of this and [lose] a lot of revenue so it's not in our best interest either,” he added.
The drop in the housing allowance is scheduled to happen on December 21st.
ABC 10News reached out to the VA for a response. The following statement was sent to ABC 10News on Wednesday afternoon.
"In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a series of laws granted the Department of Veterans Affairs authority through December 21, 2021, to pay monthly housing allowance at the in-person rate instead of the online rate. These measures preserve GI Bill students’ MHA rates that would have been impacted by the conversion to online learning from in-person operations due to COVID-19, however, are not intended to supplant existing laws in circumstances where a school solely delivers online learning. In those circumstances, MHA rates set by law (38 U.S.C. § 3313), give VA the authority to pay MHA for online learning at 50% of the national average. VA does not have the authority to make adjustments to this rate. VA encourages all GI Bill students to use the GI Bill Comparison Tool [gcc02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com] to learn more about education programs and compare benefits by school to determine which one is the best for their academic pursuits."