Karma, Student Loans, and the GI Bill

I like to believe in the law of karma, because believing that something good should happen helps us to feel better. This is where faith comes in, of which I have very little. Maybe I’ve watched too many crime documentaries to jade my thinking, but the reality is, real life isn’t nice. I feel that I’ve been cheated too many times out of something I worked for, or I lost an opportunity that wasn’t under my control – and I am the one that pays for it. So if karma is real, shouldn’t it have equaled out by now? Will it ever? Or is karma some other shit humans made up so we don’t go jumping off cliffs in despair?

In my first book, Unheard, I briefly discussed the time I moved in the middle of my sixth-grade school year to another zone. In order to stay in the current school, they tested me to be in the gifted program. I passed and finished out my school year in the program, which ended for me when the school year ended. I was only in the program for about 3-4 months. Recently, I found out I could have been in the gifted program since third grade. Third grade! This would have significantly enhanced and impacted my education in so many ways I can’t even imagine. But my mother didn’t understand and thought that it meant being sent off somewhere else to live. Education has always been very important to me, so learning this was a real blow. I wanted to cry, because being in the gifted program at an early age would have made all the difference in all of my life choices. I know for a fact my quality of life and opportunities would have been better.

While I was in the military, I paid into a monthly fund for the first year towards the Montgomery GI Bill that would have granted me $10K to use for college. (During that era, it was enough for most or all of a bachelor’s degree.) The bill had to be used within ten years of military discharge. Because I got out only days short of my minimum term, I was told all of my benefits were ineligible – including medical. Once the internet came out, I looked into it—they were wrong!

The very first time I attempted to get medical help through the VA was in the late 90s. I was living in Tallahassee, a single mom in college. My income was limited to student loans and a few side jobs. Broke and without medical insurance, I couldn’t go to the doctor. The VA at the time consisted of a tiny office in a strip mall with a couple of old guys and a bunch of 3-ring binders filled with VA regulations. Unless these guys knew exactly what they were looking for, they never would have known there was an exception for my situation. Again, I was told I was ineligible for everything; it was almost as if I’d never even served. Talk about another blow!

Exactly ten and a half years later, I did my own research when became more readily available on the internet. That’s when I learned my hardship discharge was an exception to the rule. Immediately, I emailed the VA to see what I could do. They told me I had ten years to use the GI Bill—and that time was up (literally by months!), so there is nothing they could do about it. I was pissed! How could they give me incorrect information several times but I’m the one that has to pay? Not only was I cheated out of college money but also the money I put towards it! It also impacted in taking out more student loans and paying interest. All of this resulted in not getting my master’s degree, which defeated the purpose of the subject area of my bachelor’s degree.

For over 20 years, the VA denied me medical benefits, citing I was ineligible. Being told that and without having insurance, I avoided going to doctors when I needed to, or I was forced to go into debt for other medical expenses. About five years ago, after proving and gaining my eligibility, the VA sent me a letter a few months later revoking it. And round and round we went. Finally, I found someone who knew what to do and put a special note in my file. Once I gained a 10% disability with the VA, I shouldn’t have to worry about it again. Shouldn’t. I still have a medical claim from issues stemming from that time; this takes years. (My situation isn’t unique, but the VA is getting better.)

After giving up ever seeing my GI Bill, I thought I found another way to help pay off my student loans. The premise of the payoff was to work in a critical shortage area teaching for three years. For each year of teaching, the government paid a certain percentage. It sounded like the perfect solution, since I planned to make teaching my new career. By that time, I had been a single mom for eight years and needed all the help I could. During my second year of teaching special education, I attempted to apply for the loan forgiveness—but I didn’t qualify.

What. The. Fuck!!!

The stipulation is so asinine, I still get pissed thinking about it. In order to gain forgiveness, I would have had to take out my first student loan before 1994 or after 1995. I took my first loan out in 1994, which made me ineligible for loan forgiveness. Now I was stuck teaching out of my field (although I liked my job for the first two years) with no return on my investment. I felt royally fucked by everything.

Since student loans cannot be forgiven in bankruptcy, I am stuck with an enormous amount of debt. How is it fair I have paid debt twice by serving my country and community and also made student loan payments for years? I feel I am owed something, and this is where karma comes back into play. If it’s real, I should reap some benefits of it, right? Isn’t that how it works?

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