After I served in the United States Army for 4 years, I decided to continue my education and study to become a physicians assistant. Little did I know that the UNC system would ignore the GI Bill tuition benefits I earned through my 4 years of service in the US Army and force me to pay out-of-state tuition.
I enlisted into the US Army in 2005, and was trained as a radiology technologist. I was stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and then deployed to Camp Bucca, Iraq for 15 months. I met my husband, Jose Perez-Rodriguez, while we were both serving and together we bought a home in North Carolina. We relocated to Texas on military assignment where I achieved the rank of sergeant and was honorably discharged in 2009. During this entire time, we continued to pay property taxes on our home in North Carolina and never considered Texas our new “home.” We were simply living there temporarily on orders from the United States Army.
My husband, still an active duty service member, got orders that took him back to North Carolina in April 2012. I applied to several schools in the Fort Bragg area and was accepted at both Fayetteville State University (UNC’s FSU) and University of North Carolina Pembroke (UNCP). UNCP was the obvious choice for me because of the availability of a specific class and the class schedule- I am also raising our daughter in addition to working towards my masters.
However, I found out that while UNC’s FSU characterized me as an “in-state resident for tuition purposes,” UNCP did not. This means that I cannot fully use the Post 9/11-GI Bill I earned from my 4 years of service at UNCP to pay for my tuition because the bill only covers in-state tuition. I immediately appealed the ruling but was met with hostility and aggression.
I believed it would be simple to have the decision reversed due to several factors that make me a legal resident of NC: my husband and I own our home in Raeford, NC, we continued to pay property taxes on during our service in Texas and the fact that we only left the state due to military orders. I chose to make North Carolina my home and when the Army took us away we fought to return. I believe that the UNC system took advantage of my situation and discriminated against me as a Veteran to pocket $4,603.50; the difference not covered by my Post 9/11 GI Bill.
I am not the only veteran this is affecting. Hundreds of thousands of veterans across the country are facing an arduous battle proving their residency to a state- because of the unique circumstances that encompass our military duties. Thus, I- along with the Student Veterans Advocacy Group- am calling on the UNC Board of Governors and President to issue a mandate to all UNC schools telling them to properly implement the rules for labeling veterans as in-state students and force an in-depth review of each veteran or dependent. We need and deserve the Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits WE have rightfully earned through blood, sweat, and often tears.
For more info on the Student Veterans Advocacy Group: http://www.studentveteransadvocacygroup.org/