N.C. nonprofit plans to sue over veterans' tuition at state schools

by: Allison Latos Updated:


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A North Carolina nonprofit plans to sue the state and the University of North Carolina school system over a tuition battle involving student veterans.

The nonprofit, Student Veterans Advocacy Group, claims some schools overcharged the students and received millions of tax dollars.

Victoria Blumenburg is one of thousands of college students who is a veteran.

"I was an intelligence analyst in the Air Force. When I was on active duty before coming to school, I was stationed in Baghdad," Blumenburg said.

Jason Thigpen, with Student Veterans Advocacy Group, said he has some big questions and concerns. He believes state schools have made millions by inaccurately counting some N.C. veterans as out-of-state students.

He said students wouldn't have noticed the mistake until recently.

The GI Bill used to pay for military members' educations, but in August 2011 the law changed. Now, it only covers tuition of veterans who attend an in-state college or university.

Thigpen believes schools may have made residency mistakes in the past, but the Department of Veterans Affairs would have paid for it.

"It's still taxpayer money," Thigpen said.

Now that the GI Bill has changed, students are getting the bills and seeing the errors.

So far, SVAG has helped 32 N.C. student veterans win their cases where they were wrongly classified as out-of-state.

SVAG has been searching for how many N.C. veterans were counted as out-of-state students and how much money state schools collected from their tuition over the past five years.

Thigpen's organization has been trying to contact every N.C. public university and community college. He told Eyewitness News most schools either didn't respond or couldn't provide the information.

When Channel 9 contacted UNC-Charlotte, university officials said they are working to get those statistics for SVAG but couldn't say how long it would take.

A UNC System spokeswoman said in an email that tuition revenue isn't tracked by whether students are civilians or veterans, and they don't get extra money from higher out-of-state tuition.

"We are currently working to streamline the process so that a single residency determination would be made for all UNC applicants, regardless of the number of UNC campuses they applied to. We're hoping to coordinate that process with the community college system," the spokeswoman stated in the email.

The SVAG compiled a report and filed a complaint with Veterans Affairs, calling for an audit of every state school.

U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre represents North Carolina's 7th District. His office sent an email to Veterans Affairs to get answers.

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis' office emailed Eyewitness News stating he plans to work with the school leaders on how to handle this issue.

Thigpen's group has hired an attorney.

Thigpen said the federal lawsuit could be filed in Raleigh as early as this week, but the group's attorney wouldn't comment on any pending litigation.