Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Trust (the VA? the State?)

The VA is adapting. When the Post-9/11 GI Bill got fucked, the VA cared enough to improvise and implement a new plan; an inefficient and inaccessible emergency cash advance via check.

FRAGO! (3?)

Just this afternoon, the VA released another new statement. It seems my companions in the milblogosphere had some complaints. That some veterans would be required to travel upwards of 400 miles to receive their emergency fund checks seemed a bit defeating in nature. Today’s statement is to announce that veterans can submit for the emergency checks via the VA’s website, starting Friday.

Of course, normal delays are to be expected: a few days to process, and a few days for standard USPS delivery.

Naturally, I’m wondering why this method wasn’t introduced in the first place*. IF it works as it should, I’ll get paid. But that was the point of the original Bill, as well. I’m not claiming to know what goes on at the VA, or how the internal application and payout process works. In fact, I shouldn’t be questioning any of this, but studying Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads. However, I am worrying because my shit became fucked, like most of the others who had come to rely, too much I might add, on a handout that was promised to us months ago. And, now, with some issues arrising with Mrs. 13’s unemployment insurance, we too are left in the hole, after budgeting for and even expecting to be left in the hole. That reserve is gone, and bills are due tomorrow.

So, in whom do I place my trust? Will the State of California mail us our check before I am able to receive my VA emergency advance? Also, what happens after I receive my advance? That would seemingly entail more paperwork, and more notes, for corrections, and deductions of the BAH when it does commence. Will that continue to burden a system, which is already overburdened? Do I trust the VA enough to have my regular payments corrected (as a result of the $3000 advance, if I qualify for that much), and started for 1 November?

As always, I don’t have an answer. I have many questions, and I hope my observation about the VA’s adapting is accurate. Let’s hope the hiccups are sputtering to an end.

* Edit: when I ask why this wasn't introduced in the first place, I didn't mean the emergency check. I meant, that if as Joe Blow veteran, I can go online, fill out a form, and be assured of receiving a check in 6 working days, then why doesn't the post-9/11 GI Bill work as simple as this? I know there are certifications and procedures and school officials getting involved, but that runs on the tuition side of things. It's the BAH and living money I am concerned about. And, since WAVE and monthly certs are no longer necessary... shouldn't BAH side of things happen this easily, online?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ninja Smoke

by The Usual Suspect

Ol' Suspect here is going underground for a little while, with endeavors unrelated to academics for the time being. Yes I am writing almost daily, and some of it might even see the light of day.

Six months from now, if you read entries about a deposed animal from 2nd ID careening through the streets in an ambulance with the sirens on and thunderous metal music rattling the windows, that means that Plan B is in effect.


Monday, September 28, 2009

First Day of Class

by 13 Stoploss

Because, you know, if carrots got you drunk, rabbits would be fucked up.

It seems like an eon ago, but if I remember any catch phrase from Basic Training, it would be: “if you’re ten minutes early, you’re five minutes late.” At the time, it didn’t resonate well within, not while patiently standing at parade rest in the slanting, windy-cold of a Fort Benning winter evening. In fact, my superior reasoning skills told me that, since our Drill Sergeants would be ten minutes late for formation anyway, there was no point in standing quietly stiff-legged for twenty-five minutes when there were more productive ways to end the evening. When I left the Army, however, that phrase took on a whole new meaning. I suppose I never looked at the Army like it was “a new job.” So, after the Army, when I got that “new job,” which was important, and for which I wanted to make a great impression, it did evoke a worthwhile remembrance. That is how I prepared for my first day in my major, at the university.

Mrs. 13 woke me up far earlier than I had awakened all summer. My eyes stung more like they would after having been awake for thirty-six hours than asleep for six. After downing a glass of water, and cranking up the volume for Dennis Barthel’s morning classical show on KUSC, I stumbled like a legally blind man who can mostly see, but refuses, into the shower. Coffee and breakfast were waiting for me, as I trudged downstairs.

By eight, I was on the road for a drive that normally takes twenty-minutes at most. I was an hour early for my nine-thirty class, but I found a parking space on the top level of the parking structure with enough room to positively suppose that assholes will leave my doors and corner panels alone. In fact, I was alone up top, and sipped my coffee at comfortable and leisurely pace.

After rocking out for a bit in the car, and after swearing off elevators for the entire term, I walked down five flights of stairs, across a street, up three more flights of stairs, and through a glass-paned door leading into the food court. The ambience changed from black and white to technicolor as this straw tiger-man traipsed past all sorts of sordid crows and flying monkeys. Bank of America, Boost Mobile, and every sort of bro’d-out fraternity welcomed me to UC Irvine. Posters and banners streamed across the bridge like frantic and multi-colored M4 tracers fired at night. Persian Student Alliance, Korean Christians—I don’t want your color-coded trash or discriminatory glances!

I walked through a giant park, up a hill, next to the remnants of some slit-your-wrist emo concert, then back down a hill, up a ramp, and around the side of the Computer Science building for my Poetry class. Yeah, Humanities be hanging with the Computer Science geeks. Go figure.

The classroom was unlit and unlocked. My motion triggered the lights, and I took a seat in the back. Professor was a down to earth kinda guy from Iowa, a Ph.D candidate, and all-around seemingly solid dude in jeans and a relaxed, casual long sleeve, collared shirt. Memorable quote of the day:

Girl: “What is a Poet Laureate?”

Professor Dude: “I don’t know. Really. I mean, it’s kinda like… you know, a state flower or something. They exist in name, I guess.”

I had ten minutes to walk back across the park the way I had first come. When I got to my next classroom, it was nearly full, occupied mostly by chatty women. A beach cruiser was parked in the front of the room, displayed proudly as if on exhibit. In the “teacher chair” in the front of the room was a slacker looking dude in short shorts and a t-shirt, reclining in a chair that refuses to recline, and hiding behind a stack of papers. His hair was dark, and unkempt, and I wondered whether he was the dude, or just a dude.

Eventually, the class settled down, and a deep, calm voice echoed from the slacker up front. He was the dude, and he had a voice that said he was fifteen years older than he looked, despite looking as old as I am, but not how I look. I gathered that he was an east coaster, and hopefully not a Red Sux fan, but one who had stifled the stereotypical accent. Cool with me. He’s a free-lancer, teaching on a fellowship, a note, he said, regarding the way things are in the business right now.

Class was great. I read a selection from the syllabus, nervous like a school-girl, but read with confidence and a spacing resembling competence, despite a few cracks. (Public Speaking is not my thing) Definitely a laid back atmosphere, but one for which a great deal of work is to be expected.

Most of the class exited the room, and shuffled upstairs to the next intro class, on reporting. The Professor reminded me of my grandmother, at a time when Alzheimer’s had yet to strike. She was tack sharp, and quick like a shot of Tequila. Most of the points in her sentences were run-on, where no comma was necessary. Keep up, or get out, and it suited me just fine. No time for deliberating, a protest was forming, speeches were being made, and my class of amateur, wannabe, and introductory journalists had an event to cover, and protesters to interview. No kidding, not fifteen minutes into class, we were outside in the thick of it, doing the doing.

Much of the events can be found online with a simple google search. As the only veteran that I know of in the program, I am going to focus my interviews on how the UC budget crisis has affected veterans applying for and trying to receive VA benefits for schooling.

The day ended with an interview of a recruiter on campus, after my last class, as a sort of feeler for the VA idea. More to come in the weeks following, including pictures.

In all, I very pleased with the experience. THIS is what I wanted. This is where I have always wanted to be, and THESE are the people I want to learn from. I had a great experience in the Community College, but there is a distinct difference between campuses despite being only a few miles a part. Where the JC is almost an extension of HS, or HS-lite, the UC is where serious thought and instruction are taking place. With the exception of a handful of instructors at the JC, there is very little comparison to the atmosphere, and expectations. I hope to have something to show for it when I'm done here.

Big "Uh-Oh!" Brewing...

by 13 Stoploss

Because, you know, some people have never had to worry about money...

Earlier, when I said I got paid, I meant it literally. My account at school said that my tuition and fees had been paid. I wasn’t speaking of the BAH/stipend, as I knew that would come in time. Today, however, I learned, quite literally, that I have not been paid. In fact, my tuition and fees have not been paid, but deferred. And today’s truth is starting to sink in—my tuition and fees will come in time, and there’s no hurry for that, lucky me and my credit card. No, the harder truth is that my BAH/stipend won’t be coming until 1 November if I am lucky.

You see, the VA is pretty damned particular about this whole process. They wanted to know specifically how much tuition and fees were going to be. Unfortunately, the fucked-up California Budget Crisis wasn’t resolved until late August. That means that the University of California had not yet finalized the end-cost for per-unit tuition and fees.

Big “uh-oh” brewing, right?

So, even though I had submitted my paperwork to my VA coordinator in early August, she wouldn’t be able to submit my Quarter’s classes until the fees issue had been resolved. The UC would not resolve these issues until the Governor and State Senate had resolved the budget.

I don’t know where my paperwork is right now. It has been submitted, hopefully in the first grouping of paperwork that went up in early September. With an 8-10 week backlog due to California fees fiasco, I might not see that money until even December! Sure, backpay is great, once it comes, but I hadn’t budgeted for this big of a fuck-up. No, I budgeted my savings and grant/scholarship money to get me to October, not November or December.

I have at least one thing working to my advantage that most do not: I live in poor people housing, and pay roughly $350 a month for my mortgage. However, I also have to pay childcare, and diapers are not cheap. Secondly, I foolishly spent a majority of my Fall Quarter grant money almost paying off the wife’s vehicle. The last 2.5 payments were setting us up nicely for January 2010, where we could start fast tracking on my car, as well as saving! Now, I just don't know where the money will come from to meet these necessities.

I wasn't planning on taking the emergency loan, and I'm not sure what’s going to happen now, but Mrs. 13 is standing over my shoulders with tweezers in her hand. She’s just plucked three white hairs from the top of my head, and this has become a regularly occuring event in the last few weeks...


Q&A from my University's VA Coordinator:

Q: How will I receive the BAH and Book Stipend?

A: Both of these will be issued directly to the student from the VA.
If you provided direct deposit information on your application to the
VA then that is the method you will receive it. If you did not then
you will receive a hard copy check to the address listed on your

Q: When will I start to receive the payments?

A: The VA is currently in a 8-10 week delay. Due to the issues with
the California max Fees, if you submitted your stuff early to me, it
was not submitted to the VA until late august. Thus if you submitted
your paperwork before september then you should not expect to see
anything until November. If you submitted it in September then
December would be the first time you will be seeing your payments. I
DO NOT receive any communication from the VA letting me know when your
check is coming or if your certification has even been processed by
them, please DO NOT COME AND ASK ABOUT THIS, unless it is December
10th and you have not received anything.

Q: I noticed there is a credit on my ZotAccount or there was Veteran
waiver . What is it? and how do i get the money?

A: UCI issued a courtesy deferment of your fees, if you submitted your
paperwork before Sept 15th. UCI has not been paid by the VA, but is
incurring the cost in the meantime as we wait to be paid by the VA.
You may see a credit because you paid your fees or other financial aid
paid your fees. If you still have a credit on your account you should
contact the Financial Aid office to pick up your check (technically,
the windows across the hall from the main Financial Aid, is the one
that issues the checks.)

Q: Do i Have to call into WAVES or verify that I am in classes like
the other GI Bills?

A: You no longer have to do any of that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Holy Fucking Stop Loss Backpay, Batman!

by 13 Stoploss

Because, you know, we can all use an extra wipe...

Sometime this summer, President Obama signed the something or another bill (HR 6205) that included back-pay for veterans and soldiers who had been stop-lossed. This was a struggle at first, if you remember, because the initial bill authorized $1500 per month for current soldiers kept beyond their contract. Of course, whiney-bitches like myself cried out, “what about the thousands of us not currently serving, but who have been stop-lossed as well?”

And by thousands, I mean close to two hundred thousand.

Remember that part in Office Space when Lawrence was commenting to Peter Gibbons about what he’d do with one million dollars?

Lawrence: I'll tell you what I'd do, man: two chicks at the same time, man.

Peter Gibbons: That's it? If you had a million dollars, you'd do two chicks at the same time?

Lawrence: Damn straight. I always wanted to do that, man. And I think if I were a millionaire I could hook that up, too; 'cause chicks dig dudes with money.

Peter Gibbons: Well, not all chicks.

Lawrence: Well, the type of chicks that'd double up on a dude like me do.

Peter Gibbons: Good point.

Two chicks at the same time is not what's on my mind, but I could think of a few bills and debts and vehicles I'd like to pay off with that money. In turn, that could save me hundreds a month in bills, enough to where I could feasibly start SAVING money...

I’ve spent years bitching and moaning about this policy. Cry, and whine. Cry, and whine. At least, that’s what other people hear. But, you know what? I hear the cash register, now. It’s says I’m going to get paid for the extra fourteen months that my DD214 puts so succinctly—“held at the convenience of the Government.”

At the convenience of the Government.

That’s right, the Government’s convenience. Taxpayers’ convenience (I’m a taxpayer too, so I like to think I’m getting that tax money back!). Not my fucking convenience, nor my family’s. Point out the clause in my contract all you want, that doesn’t make it right, or ethical, or fair, or even fair game for the atrocity of its abuse.

This is spectacular news, but the fine print is not finished. Article in the Stripes yesterday says that the DD expects to have the process finished by 21 October. That makes pretty much perfect sense; the original bill mandated that the application procedures be completed within 120 days of the bill’s passage, and that entails victims have until October 2010 to apply. No word yet on the time the DD expects to actually process, and pay out those affected. But if the application and payout process for the expected 135,000 vets and their surviving dependents is anything like the VA’s clusterfuck with the 200,000+ claims filed for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, then you’d do well to not get your hopes up anytime before the Holidays.

In the meantime, make sure you have a DD214, your initial contract, and proof of being “stop lossed,” not that “stop loss orders” were ever printed or given in the first place. I’ll probably attach a copy of my deployment orders, plus a copy of MILPER 04-169, to show that I was caught under that net. If your DD214 is like mine, look for the part where it says “held at the convenience of the Government for _____ months.”

For the full article, click here.

* Thanks to Louisa, long ago, for pertinent information, and to Mrs. 13, tonight, for the update.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Help is on the Way

by 13 Stoploss

You know, to speed things up a bit...

Some of you may have noticed that Alex, and the dudes from VetVoice have some pretty kick ass information posted today. Well, I got the same email, but was stuck in the photo lab all day. Here is the same info, but I wanted to do my part in getting this information out there.

Today, VA's top dude, General Shinseki, authorized a $3,000 emergency payment to Veterans using the Post-9/11 Bill, and who have still have not been paid. This says many things, including the obvious: shit is still fucked up. However, the equally obvious is that despite the public shitstorm that has been heaped upon the VA, they ARE listening. In fact, they were doing some thinking, and then some acting. So, while VA employees will be working around the clock this weekend to continue processing claims, by Thursday next week, veterans can walk into their regional VA office, and walk out with some fundage to help pay the bills, you know, as sort of a gesture in good faith.

In a way, it's kinda like BEING that Private going for his EIB. On any other day, his shit was clean, and his skills were honed. Snuffy would probably get his ass reamed by his Squad Leader for fucking up, but when that stream of recited information came back to him in the "front lean and rest" like some flatulent and inspirational nugget of hope, Squad Leader just might successfully convince the Graders to give Snuffy a chance at redemption.

There might not be second chances in close combat, but that wouldn't stop Private Snuffy from working his fucking ass off to prove to his Platoon that he doesn't want to be a Private for long.

Breaking Contact or Backpack To Time Card

by The Usual Suspect

Employment: highly unlikely as a full time student who is not awarded Federal Work Study. Not even Pizza Hut returns calls.

Unemployment: doesn't pay out to full-time students.

Rent: inevitable.

Other bills: rapidly gathering together to form a gigantic monster.

Ongoing VA disability claim: ongoing.

Ship: sinking.

These are a few examples of the overall analysis of my current situation. After careful consideration, I've determined that it is not feasible to stay in school at this point in time. It's a wiser move to work full-time and unfuck finances a bit.

I'm not going to waste away, waiting for handouts. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that you have to look out for yourself and not expect anyone or anything else to carry you through your life. If I am not capable of supporting myself, then my priorities need to be adjusted.

I applaud all the vets who are currently braving the G.I. Bill shitstorm, you have more patience than I do these days. Bravo. I'll see you next fall.

Now let me put this in Army terms, to make sure it translates correctly:

The G.I. Bill is a new private going for his Expert Infantry Badge, and I am one of the graders. I am basically saying, "Holy shit, you fucking failed so hard that you knocked the BOTTOM out of failure. Get the fuck off my range, for you, sir, are a NO-GO AT THIS STATION! Retrain and come back later for your next attempt."

Be as disappointed as you want, but it feels good to breathe again. Damn good. In the meantime, Suspect and Fox have some packing and moving to do. And yes, she very much is a fox.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Longest Summer

by 13 Stoploss

I know it’s nearly October, but today is the last day of summer for me. For what started in late May, and has lasted until tonight, has been an incredibly fulfilling, liberating, and invigorating experience. I can’t remember ever having as much free time to pursue my own inquiries and obsessions without a sinking feeling of something dreadful to return to. Tomorrow, I return to a dream that, in 2005, started in Iraq. This time, it is a hard-won reality borne of sacrifice, patience, and excruciatingly diligent work.

While I eagerly await the following-through of the VA’s promise to pay BAH for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, I have mostly survived the summer on Mrs. 13’s summer paycheck planner, savings, grants and scholarships, and the credit card. While we should have been thriftier than we have been of late, I can say that my summer contained wonderful surprises, pleasant getaway excursions, new skills, and eye-opening philosophies. The short list includes skillfully mastering a few alternative processes in film photography, the reading of a half dozen books, the shooting and developing of dozens of rolls of film, a backpacking trip above 10,000 feet, having a baby, the start of a wedding and portrait photography business, and the developmental stages of two books. Along the way, I developed a Dionysian taste for Scotch, and a passionate renewal of my relationship and love for Mrs. 13 that could only have taken place by spending every glorious minute of every day with her.

Before we celebrate eight wonderful years together on Saturday, I begin my Journalism major at UC Irvine tomorrow. And, surprisingly, before the first day of class, I am already stockpiled with homework that has been emailed by professors. And, what better way to start my Journalism career than to document the faculty walkout and protest of the California budget cuts to education, including imposed faculty furloughs, and firings of many part time instructors? Aside from avoiding high-pitched, bug-eyed blondes in Uggs and Hoodies in 95 degree weather pitching Greek Life, my morning will start with coffee before starting the structure of Poetry, followed by two Journalism classes.

I’ll share stories, observations, and reports as they happen. In the meantime, pay attention to your other favorite bloggers sometime tomorrow afternoon. I hear there is going to be a pretty important blogger round table with some uppity’s at the VA concerning the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the plethora of problems veterans have endured. I’d be taking part, but hey, it’s the first day of school!

Oh yeah. Be on the lookout for the work of a certain young photographer. He has some pieces being exhibited at the local Fine Arts Center (info coming shortly) in two weeks…

Early Anniversary Gift :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

What Post 9/11 GI Bill?

by The Usual Suspect

My mountain of unexpected debt would like to know. Also, an important lesson learned:

If you tell the unemployment fucks that you're a full time student, they stop paying you. Which is fine, those are the rules. Generally, it's considered polite to tell the student though. We start to wonder after two weeks. So does the landlord.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thank You Post-9/11 GI Bill!!

by 13 Stoploss