Agreement on New G.I. Bill a Relief to Veterans

Matthew Collins, who served in the Army and will be studying engineering at California Baptist University in Riverside this fall, called the new G.I. Bill "amazing."

"It's all coming around," Collins, 24, said. "It's working, for the most part."

The new G.I. bill, which took effect Aug. 1, pays veterans' tuition and fees up to the cost of the most expensive state university -- in California, that is UC Berkeley, at $6,586 per term. It also includes a book allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should help more veterans go to four-year universities without having to rack up debt or work to support themselves through college, Collins said.

At first, though, the state and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs faced a unique problem.

Because the University of California and California State University systems call their charges "fees," the Department of Veterans Affairs set the baseline for reimbursement to UC and CSU "fees."

Private institutions charge "tuition" rather than "fees." There was no reimbursement available for "tuition."

UC fees are equivalent to tuition charges, regardless of what they are called, said Nancy Coolidge, coordinator of student support at the UC Office of the President. "We were able to convince the VA that that is how we actually spend it," she said.

"We were talking two different languages there at the beginning, but now we're speaking the same language," said J.P. Tremblay, deputy secretary for the California Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA could not be reached for information about the process.

Veterans had been waiting for an answer since May, when the negotiations began.

Collins served in Germany and Afghanistan for about two years and returned to the U.S. last November. He wanted to attend Cal Baptist but was not sure he could afford it if he did not receive help from the new G.I. Bill.

Collins considered moving to Oregon for college. He started a Facebook group called "G.I. Bill Fairness for California."

Before last week's agreement, Cal Baptist decided to participate in the bill's Yellow Ribbon program. Under that, the VA matches whatever a school pays toward a veteran's tuition.

"CBU is one of the more veteran-friendly schools in California," Collins said. "I'll walk out with no student loans and no debt if I play my cards right."

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