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Emergency Checks Under New G.I. BillPhil Northcutt Salem-News.com
The VA is going out of its way to distribute emergency checks to veterans awaiting GI Bill payments. Veterans make a run on the banks.
(SANTA ROSA, Calif.) - In the lobby of the Ronald V. Dellums federal building in Oakland, California, about 50 veterans wait in line to go through the employee entrance. Security guards call them forward one at a time. Belts and watches are removed. ID cards displayed.
Signs indicate the way to the VA office where checks are being distributed. The hallways are packed with veterans filling out forms. Free donuts are by the elevator. VA employees are directing everyone to a room where about 200 student-veterans are at different stages in the process, mostly waiting for their names to be called.
A name is called every minute or so. Some veterans sit with their children. Some stand. The room is hot. The air conditioning can't handle the excess heat of the hundred or so veterans that now occupy the room.
A man hushes the crowd and calls their attention. "You can get online and have the check mailed to you in 3-5 days. We have computers here you can use." No one budges. The veterans mostly scoff at the idea. These veterans intend to walk out with their money in-hand.
Nearly every veteran I spoke to had to borrow money from friends or family. Daniel and Genoveva are both Marine Corps veterans who came with their 5-year old son, Dominic. They drove over an hour to get to Oakland. Attending Diablo Valley College and Los Madonnas, they heard the rumors of a backlog at the VA's processing center in Muskogee, Oklahoma and were extra careful with their spending.
They still had to borrow from family who they say were very understanding. Genoveva says they called the VA and were told they weren't in the system. They had no idea what was going on.
"We couldn't spend money on anything but the very basics." Dominic's birthday is coming up and these student-parents weren't sure if they could afford the birthday party.
"I touched a deer," Says Dominic, nearly five.
Luckily, neither parent had classes today and were both able to come down and personally collect their benefits. "I'm just glad it finally happened," says Genoveva.
Will, a student at College of the Redwoods, drove down the night before. He says it took him about 8 hours to get here. Will was working in the bio-tech industry making about $25 an hour in Chicago. He came to California to be closer to his son.
"Last time he came to visit for the summer, he couldn't understand why he had to leave his dad." Will decided to move to Humboldt and go school there, using the new GI Bill.
"Humboldt is unusual because most of the jobs are working in the (marijuana) grow industry. There's not a lot of bio-tech jobs there."
For the last month Will has been living in his car. He was evicted after not paying his rent. Will was counting on the VA to give him a housing allowance he never got.
"There was no communication," he said. "This all could have been better facilitated. I'm hoping to get the full $3000 to put a deposit down on a place so I can have somewhere to live."
He's waiting on his check.
"We've issued checks to over a hundred veterans already this morning," said Jim Brubaker, Assistant Director. "We'll be open today until 6:00 p.m., and we'll be open tomorrow, on Saturday, as well."
Normally the entire building would be closed on Saturdays and opening it requires a multitude of security and other personnel to be on hand, but, says Brubaker, "The VA is committed to getting these checks into the hands of these veterans."
"What we're doing now is something we haven't done before, but the new VA is not going to be some super-huge lethargic agency that's too big to act. We're going to do everything we can do."
The nearest bank ran out of cash by about 9:00 a.m. and a VA employee notified everyone and handed out addresses of other banks. Veterans were taking their checks straight to the bank to cash them.
Mike, a 25-year old Marine Corps veteran, says, "Like everybody else here, I'm just waiting." Mike is attending American River College. He drove an hour and a half to get here. Mike's attitude is positive.
"I think it will be worked out by next semester."
Mike also had to borrow money, taking out emergency book loans through his school. He says he is from a good family, that he's not too bad off.
"I've still got a home. I'm not as bad off as a lot of others," he says. "People just don't need to be treated like that."
Phil Northcutt is combat veteran of the Iraq war and a former infantry Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. He is an agriculture student at Santa Rosa Junior College, and works as a veterans advocate connecting veterans in need to the resources and non-profits that assist them. He has experience as a music promoter, television and mobile media producer with a background in printing. Phil is an outspoken advocate of medical cannabis for veterans with issues of Post Traumatic Stress.
We at Salem-News.com are extremely happy to add Phil to our staff of writers, many of whom are combat veterans, and allow a place for his strong voice that has already made a difference for many. Phil is our first writer who is a combat veteran of the Iraq War. You can send Phil Northcutt an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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