Kansas student veterans left waiting for GI Bill benefits they earned

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Flags representing all U.S. military branches line the hall at Wichita State's Military and Veteran Services office.  In the background several student veterans are studying. Flags representing all U.S. military branches line the hall at Wichita State's Military and Veteran Services office. In the background several student veterans are studying.
The U.S. and MIA/POW flag fly over the Wichita State campus Wednesday. The U.S. and MIA/POW flag fly over the Wichita State campus Wednesday.
A student veteran studies in the lounge at Wichita State's Military and Veterans Services office. A student veteran studies in the lounge at Wichita State's Military and Veterans Services office.
Lt. Col. Larry Burks, Sr, (Ret. Army) answers a student's questions over the phone Wednesday at WSU's Military and Veteran Services office. Lt. Col. Larry Burks, Sr, (Ret. Army) answers a student's questions over the phone Wednesday at WSU's Military and Veteran Services office.
WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

"Getting groceries, paying off cars, taking out loans, paying stuff with credit cards..." 

A backlog at the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) leaves hundreds of Kansas student veterans struggling to pay the bills. 

Student veterans say they warned the VA and universities there were going to be problems processing GI Bill benefits applications after a change in the agency's IT system.  

This fall, hundreds of thousands of students are waiting for money the government owes them.

"It really doesn't matter how many," said Marine veteran Ciaban Caneles Peterson, president of Wichita State's Student Veterans Organization.  "As soon as it's one, it's an issue to me."

Ciaban and other students say they  started seeing problems this fall after the VA changed its IT infrastructure.

"The backlog with the VA, those payments were kind of delayed. I was able to absorb some costs," Ciaban said.  He added other veterans at WSU did the same.  But that it's still been hard.  "It's impacted all of us emotionally."

And some have had to leave bills unpaid or paid by credit card.

Nationwide, more than 224,000 students had backlogged paperwork.

"Honestly, from my perspective, there was a kind of a lack of care, a lack of... some mismanagement," said Ciaban.

More than 100 students came to Military and Veteran Services at WSU for help according to the office's new director Retired Army  Lieutenant Colonel Larry Burks, Senior.

Students say a vacancy in Burks' position made the problem at Wichita State worse.  In his fourth week on the job, Burks says his priority is helping those students get their payments.

"We have since gone through with a team of eight people in the university and we've looked at every application that's been submitted," Burks said.  

Those applications are now in the hands of the VA, waiting for the federal agency to process them, he says.  In the meantime, Burks says the university is trying to help fill the financial gaps.

"We have a program now where, if a student is incurring a financial hardship, we're going to be able to extend some monetary contributions to them," Burks said.

Ciaban says he's urging Kansans to support H.R. 4830, the Sit-Rep Act.  Designed to fix many of the problems they're seeing at the VA, it's passed the U.S. House, but has been sitting in the U.S. Senate since May.

While he graduates in December, Ciaban says he's worried about veterans who will still be in school next spring or who are just getting out of the military and considering using their GI Bill benefits to get an education, some of whom have already contacted him confused and worried.

"That is our number one thing," Ciaban said.  "We want to make sure that those on the front lines are taken care of when they come back." 

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