In choosing to serve her country in uniform, Hayleigh Lynn Perez knowingly accepted a nomadic life. Now the former Army sergeant says she and thousands of other veterans trying to get a higher education are being penalized for that enforced rootlessness.
Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the federal government will pick up the full in-state cost for any honorably discharged service member wishing to attend a public college or university. But because the often intricate rules governing residency differ from state to state, and even within university systems, many veterans face a bewildering battle to exercise the benefits they’ve already fought for.
“It is part of our contractual agreement when we join the military,” says Perez, who filed a $10 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the University of North Carolina Board of Governors after one of its schools denied her resident status. “It’s been paid for — with blood and sweat and tears and deployments.”
Until last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs would cover up to the highest rate charged for in-state students at a public school in that state. But under changes that took effect in August 2011, while veterans can receive up to $17,500 a year for study at private schools, the agency will pay only “the actual net cost for in-State tuition and fees assessed” by the public institution the veteran is attending.