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The Navy told him he served long enough to get his kids free college. Their math was 6 days off.

Paige Dotson on campus at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Paige Dotson on campus at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She transferred there as an in-state student after her GI Bill funding was pulled at DePaul University. | Patricia Luiso / Sun-Times

His daughter’s GI Bill-covered tuition at DePaul was cut off. Now, she and her father, a vet who served 22 years and was honored for saving 2 lives in Afghanistan, have to repay more than $20,000.

Russell Dotson served 22 years with the U.S. Navy, active duty and reserve. A decorated senior chief boatswain’s mate, he was deployed overseas six times, each for a year. In 2010, he saved two lives in a rocket attack and ground assault in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

His service took a toll. His marriage didn’t survive. His children worried about him — a lot.

“I was gone for a year, home for a year, gone for a year, home for a year,” he says. “The whole family paid a price for that.”

His daughter, Paige Dotson, 22, says: “I didn’t see my dad for six years. I thought he was going to die.”

When the Navy told Dotson that, if he would re-enlist for another four years, he could transfer his Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefit to Paige and her brother for college, he didn’t hesitate. His children each would get two years of schooling paid, giving them a shot to be the first college graduates in their family.

Dotson, who’s from Michigan, didn’t know that the promised education would be yanked out from under them, that this gift would turn into debt-collection notices for his daughter amounting to $20,000 and growing.

The Dotsons are among military families on the hook for huge, unexpected bills for college they were promised would be covered by a government plan that for years has come under fire. Some children of veterans went to college, only to be told there was an error with their parents’ applications, and the funds would be cut off.

“A lot of time, they don’t even know something is wrong,” says Vadim Panasyuk, a senior manager with the nonprofit organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Panasyuk says he’s heard from more than 40 families who were shocked to find their GI Bill benefits canceled. One family was told: You now owed the government $60,000.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he says. “It really ruins the financial stability of some of our longest-serving families. It’s folks that gave their all for their country — their youth, their health, everything.”

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, signed into law in 2008, covers veterans who served in the military after Sept. 11, 2001. It’s meant to pay college tuition, books and housing for veterans, much like the post-World War II GI Bill that helped boost the middle class.

But there have been numerous complaints. Initially, much of the funding was going to for-profit colleges. Last year, some vets saw their housing payments delayed because of administrative glitches.

Being able to transfer the education benefit to your dependents has become a key retention tool for military services stretched thin by …read more

Source:: Chicago Sun Times


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