After five years of active duty in the Army and four days into his second year at the University of Iowa, Drew Mangler is unsure how he will pay his rent.
Mangler, like roughly 60 other UI students, applied for financial aid for the new Post-9/11 GI Bill. But, to the veterans' dismay, only three have been processed.
"I worked all summer, so hopefully, that will cover [rent]," he said. "But I'll probably have to get another job."
The new legislation, which was signed into law this month, includes more benefits than the Veterans Education Assistance Program, which student/veterans relied on in the past — and they can still use for assistance.
Mangler said he needs the extra benefits the new bill provides, however, because it pays 100 percent of his tuition.
"The way the original bill worked, we only had a flat rate of $40,000, which doesn't cover four years of tuition at the UI," he said.
In addition, the new program includes a monthly living allowance and book stipend of $1,000 per year.
But with classes underway, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs telling school officials there will be a six- to eight-week delay, most students who signed up for the new bill don't know when to expect their money.
On Monday, the Veterans Affairs Web site showed 211,251 veteran applications for financial aid still pending. At this time last year, there were 43,522.
Veterans began applying for the new bill on May 1, but the schools couldn't send the requests to the veterans department until July 7.
Herald "Skip" Kempnich, who handles all of the UI student veterans' requests for financial aid, said the UI is in better shape than many schools because he sent in applications the first day he was allowed.
"Some private schools who haven't reported their tuition yet — who knows when [those vets] are going to get their money," he said.
Some schools wait to send in vets' applications until they receive the students' credit of eligibility — which shows how long a student was deployed — to check if the student qualifies for the Yellow Ribbon Program, Kempnich said.
Under the program, Yellow Ribbon schools — which includes some private schools and graduate programs — must offer vets a scholarship for half of their tuition and fees. The veterans department matches the cost.
But Kempnich doesn't wait to check vets eligibility for the Yellow Ribbon. Instead, he sends in requests as early as possible, he said.
"I made sure that [my veterans] at least get the minimum amount," Kempnich said. "Then, if needed, I upgrade them to a Yellow Ribbon if they're eligible."
Normally, if a UI bill is past due, the student can't use his or her ID card for charging. But UI Cashier Marty Miller said the university will not penalize the vets this semester for an overdue bill in this case.
"We're trying to be as lenient as we can not to penalize students when it's out of their control," Miller said.
Kempnich said regional processing centers for the veterans department are hiring hundreds of new employees to ease the crunch, but that has also created problems.
"Some are overstaffing, and these new employees need more [supervision]," Kempnich said.
UI junior Jesse Boland, who also enrolled for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, said he will have to use money from his savings in the meantime
But he isn't exactly shocked about the delay.
"I've been in the military for a while, so I'm not totally surprised by the backlog," he said. "I expected it."