Who are the Vets at State?

Joshua Carter: As a Navy veteran here at SF State, people always ask me what benefits I get. So I decided that with Veteran’s Day coming up, it’s probably a good idea to look at some of the benefits we receive, both educational and not. I spoke with vets on campus and learned that some go through quite a few hoops to get a full payout. I also learned that there is a slough of benefits outside of the GI Bill just waiting to be tapped into. Did you know you can get free meal tickets to the cafeteria if you have a disability rating? Neither did I. I’m Joshua Carter, and this is The Bleed.

A big reason a lot of people join the military in the first place is for the post 9/11 GI Bill, which not only pays your tuition, but also gives you a housing stipend of almost $5,000 a month! But time limits on using it give the GI Bill a catch. The first person I decided to talk to Harvey Hightower, who I’ve known since my days in the military. Right now, he’s worried that his Post 9/11 GI Bill will run out. My first question is how the heck did his timeframe for benefits get so low?

Harvey Hightower: I finish my degree, right, when my 9/11 benefits are done. I have exactly the right amount that I should be qualified to graduate and get my bachelor’s at the end of my next fall semester, because I have enough benefits for two more semesters ,and with the way the classes are, I should meet all the requirements, number of credits and degree requirements to have graduated. But I am looking at other options for extending my stuff.

It’s suggested and advised that you take more than 12 credits, like four classes a semester, so that you can get it on time ’cause you only have 36 months of benefits. And all of my previous semesters, I only ever did 12 credits, just because of a bunch of different, personal life situations going on — whether it was, you know, my first semester going into college, I wanted it to be kind of easy because I’d have to, I was driving a while to get to class.

Joshua Carter: Harvey’s situation isn’t really unique, although the actual amount of time he spent driving was. He was living all the way out in Lemoore, which is way past Fresno. That’s over 175 miles to drive every week, just to get the full benefits. 

Harvey Hightower: At the time, and for California, it was cheap. Our rent was, like, 900 bucks. So, if I wanted to get the full San Francisco BAH, then I had to take a class in person, but it was at least one. If all of my classes were online, then I would just be going to online school to the government, and they would consider that half of the national average, which is like 1600, and so I had to get like 850 bucks or something.

I drove about four hours to go to school every week once a week. And then I did also, I worked a part-time job in Hanford, the town over.

Joshua Carter: But what are some options if Harvey’s benefits do run out? I met with Michael Akai, a marine corps veteran at City Eats, where disabled veterans are apparently allowed to get free meal cards for the semester, and asked him about some of the benefits outside of the GI Bill. The first one he mentioned was vocational rehab.

Michael: To start like getting on Voc, you need a 20% VA rating or more. The whole idea of Chapter 31 is that it is an employment program.

Joshua Carter: Voc rehab pays for school and housing just like the GI Bill. But unlike the GI Bill, it’s more geared towards giving disabled vets the resources they need to actually find employment. That means books, computers, and even mobility assistance. 

Michael: The benefits have helped me because originally I didn’t have a computer going into college. So I got a computer. Um, a MacBook Pro. And then it wouldn’t take some of the engineering software that I needed, so I was able to request another one a year later. 

Joshua Carter: But there was one benefit in particular that I, having gotten over five parking tickets this year, was interested in.

Michael: Under [Chapter] 31, you can get a free parking pass into the garage, which even lets you into like the staff section, like the top floor.

Joshua Carter: So if you’re a disabled vet with 20% disability or more you can get free meals and parking? Say less. I’m definitely going to stop by the Health and Wellness center because parking and food both aren’t cheap. Just make sure you get there early next semester because apparently they have a limited amount of meal passes to give out, and you can be denied one if you don’t get there early enough.

You’ve been listening to The Bleed, an Xpress Magazine podcast, and this song is Night Time, written and recorded by me for Xpress.