Veteran Claims UNC System Discriminates

Veterans around the country are having difficulties with the GI Bill.

A Veteran in North Carolina is challenging the UNC system over its treatment of in-state veterans. Hayleigh Perez, an Iraq war veteran, says that she was misclassified as an out-of-state resident when she applied to a North Carolina college. Through deployment and temporary stations in Texas, Perez has owned a home in North Carolina since she was stationed at Fort Bragg in 2006.

"This has been so hurtful," Perez said in a story on Military Times. "My husband and I sat down and decided this is where we wanted to be together, this is where we wanted to raise a family, and we bought a home here. This is where my house is. This is where my property taxes are paid. This is where I have my driver's license.

"If I'm not a North Carolina resident, I guess I don't have a home state."

Countless veterans around the country have had similar problems since changes made to the Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect last year, in some cases reducing the amount of money the Department of Veterans Affairs will pay to for their education. In the past, the GI Bill would cover tuition at public universities up to the highest rate charged for in-state students in that state. But last year, changes approved by Congress capped tuition payments at public universities to the actual in-state rate for the particular school the veteran attended. Veterans attending public schools as out-of-state students would have to make up the difference between the in-state and out-of-state rates.

Hayleigh Perez' will deliver a petition in Chapel Hill Thursday. Afterwards, Perez said she will go to Raleigh with Jason Thigpen, founder and president of the Student Veterans Advocacy Group, and file a suit in federal court claiming that the UNC system, its board of governors and its schools discriminate against veterans.

Thigpen said the suit will ask that UNC be required to provide facilities, services and resources to veterans as it does other minority groups. He cited N.C. State University as one that is supportive to student veterans, but said most don't provide services that veterans need, especially those who are dealing with PTSD.

Thigpen, also an Army vet, said his group has been successful in helping veterans appeal their residency determinations at UNC system schools. He would like to see the state legislature change the law to specify that veterans be treated as in-state residents, as some 15 states have done.

"The GI bill was a loan that each service member made to each service," Thigpen said. "When they come home and use it, that's paying back that loan.

"We're not asking for any more or less than what we deserve."