Jason Elliot started his third semester at Tacoma Community College with the same part-time job that helped him pay his bills last year - as an employment counselor for veterans at a state-run office on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
He was eligible for the work at $8.55 an hour because he’s a veteran himself, having served eight years in the Army. This semester, Elliot and other student workers whose pay comes through the Department of Veterans Affairs say their checks aren’t coming on time.
He filed a time card for 50 hours of work Sept. 10 and received a paycheck Oct. 6. He filled out another one Sept. 23 and was paid Friday. That’s an improvement, but it’s still longer than last year’s one-week turnaround.
He’s confident the VA will catch up, but in the meantime, he’s struggling to budget.
“You can’t make any solid financial plan when you don’t know when your money’s coming in,” Elliot, 32, said.
It’s not clear what’s causing the delay, but Elliot is under the impression that it’s a backlog of work at a VA paycheck-processing center in Oklahoma.
“I’m told they’ve been working till 8 p.m. and on weekends (to resolve a backlog in pay),” he said. “That’s admirable, but it doesn’t negate the fact that I worked 145 hours without getting paid.”
VA officials said they were unaware of any widespread backlog in work-study payments and could not say what was causing the delay.
The office where Elliot works can’t expedite his checks. The state Employment Security Department approves Elliot’s hours but doesn’t pay him.
“There is a process, and all we can do is a step in the process,” said ESD spokesman Mark Varadian. Varadian said Elliot’s supervisors were aware of the delay.
Bill Harrington, Tacoma Community College’s veterans affairs coordinator, deferred questions to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He sent an e-mail Thursday to students that said the VA appears to be behind in issuing payments for housing and book allowances, benefits veterans can receive under the GI Bill.
“Some veterans who we certified in early September have still not been paid,” he wrote to students, providing them a VA phone number where they can check their benefits.
As of Aug. 30, the VA had received notice that more than 200,000 people planned to use GI Bill benefits this fall. The VA was processing 10,000 claims each day in September, up from 2,000 a day a year ago, VA Director of Eduction Service Keith Wilson reported to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee last month.
Elliot’s coworker Jason Scott has an even more challenging predicament. Scott, 28, has a 1-year-old son and was unemployed for much of last year.
“I can’t pay day care. I can’t get diapers,” he said, though an Oct. 6 paycheck almost caught him up to speed on the hours he has worked since late August.
Scott left the Army after returning from a year in Iraq with the Fort Lewis-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division in 2004 and 2005. He turned to college through the GI Bill after the recession dried up the work he’d had as an electrician.
“It’s rough out there for veterans. It’s rough out there for everyone,” he said.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/military