Vets Get Emergency G.I. Bill Benefits

By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 3, 2009; 11:16 AM

Some 6,619 student veterans had received emergency checks at the Department of Veterans Affairs' 57 regional offices by 3 p.m. Friday, the first day the aid became available for students across the country who have yet to receive tuition, books and housing payments under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Another 6,752 veterans had applied for the aid -- a maximum $3,000 advance against benefits -- online.

As of last week, fewer than 10 percent of the 251,000 veterans who had applied for GI Bill benefits had actually received checks, forcing thousands to use savings or take out personal loans to make ends meet.

At the agency's regional office in the District, about 300 veterans waited at noon in chairs and on the floor for a chance to apply for and receive the checks, which were announced a week ago by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

"I've been stressing," said Gabriel Albanes, 23, who deployed twice to Iraq as a Marine and is now a student at Northern Virginia Community College. "I gotta pay rent next month, and I have a part-time job but it's not going to cover it."

At most of the agency's regional offices, veterans were able to get their checks in 15 to 20 minutes, agency officials said. But in the District, some who had traveled from as far away as Virginia Beach, waited more than four hours.

"I'm not real happy that veterans have been waiting so long here," said Deputy Undersecretary Michael Walcoff, who toured the waiting area. Gabriel Albanes, a 23-year-old who served two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps, said he needed the help to pay rent next month.

"I've been stressing," said Albanes, who live in Chantilly. "I'll be here all day as long as I get my money."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company