Special Report: Billed for Benefits

WAVY-TV 10 Photo

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A local woman ended up with a huge bill for college expenses, even though she had been approved for education benefits on the GI Bill based on her father’s Navy service.

Danielle Veit, 23, appealed the bill to the Veterans Administration for nearly a year without any success. She contacted 10 On Your Side, we reached the VA, and it took swift action to reduce the debt with the possibility of wiping out more.

“I actually dropped to my knees,” Veit said about the day she received the bill in February of last year. “I started having trouble breathing. I freaked out.”

Seven years earlier in 2009, her father, Blair Veit, was serving in the Riverine Squadron of the Navy Seabees. He was stationed in Basra as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He applied to transfer his education credits to his children under the post 9-11 GI Bill.

Veit says he had about 16 years of active duty with the Navy, already more than enough to qualify to transfer his education benefits to a family member. The service member must apply before the actual retirement date. The Department of Defense then requires what’s known as “obli-serve” – a period of obligated service before retirement.

Danielle Veit was approved for the education benefit and began college in 2011.

“That meant everything to me,” Blair Veit said. “As a parent, you’re always concerned with what you can give to your children to help them in life.”

Also in 2011, Blair Veit logged into his account a second time to update some information. Before each semester, Dani Veit needed and received additional approval letters.

Veit’s official retirement date from the Navy was December 31, 2012.

More than three years later, in February of last year, Danielle Veit opened her mail. It said she had to repay the government more than $25,000.

“It was such a great sum of money and I had been given nothing prior saying, ‘Hey, you might owe all of this back.’”

The bill came despite her approval nearly five years earlier, and six more letters of approval — one for each semester.

“I stopped school because of it. I didn’t want to go to school with this kind of debt over my head.”

The defense department told Blair Veit it never had a record of his first application date — the one he made while in harm’s way, at that base in Basra back in 2009.

The log-in application date is all-important. It determines when you can retire and still be able to transfer benefits.

Veit says when he called the DoD, the representative told him their records showed his second log-in in 2011 as his application date.

”I said, ‘Well your system is wrong.’”

The two-year difference resulted in Veit retiring too early to transfer the benefits by a mere sixteen days. A military mix-up made a career of more than 20 years meaningless as far as transferring education benefits.

“Just because of 16 days. That’s absurd.”

Dani Veit and her father spent the next year appealing and pleading their case and battling the bureaucracy. The Veits reached out to WAVY News in March, we got involved, and to its credit, the VA started to do the right thing.

“The help that we’ve gotten because of you getting involved with this has really made a difference,” Blair Veit said.

Of the initial debt of $25,000, the VA has now dismissed more than $12,000. Danielle Veit can appeal to wipe out an additional $9,000. She’s already repaid $4,000 herself, but that won’t be reimbursed.

“It was incredible. We go to you guys and within three or four weeks, we were getting a response,” she said.

She’s thankful for the financial relief and the fact that the VA is now listening. But in a recent conversation with a VA rep, she discovered she’s not alone.

“This shouldn’t be something that happens all the time when it comes to retired military, active military or their families. Those benefits mean a whole lot to those families.”

Dani Veit has a letter from Congressman Bobby Scott’s office saying he will look into the rules surrounding veterans’ benefits.

After the VA dismissed part of Dani Veit’s debt, the education benefit reverted back to her father. He won’t be able to transfer it unless for some reason he would return to active duty for at least 16 days.