MCLEAN, Va. (WUSA) - Local Marine veteran Donald Stutsman who fought in Iraq is stuck in limbo after what he considers a failure of the GI Bill. A breakdown in the system has put his life on hold and left him with mounting college debt.
Stutsman, 30, would rather be in college today than tinker with his jeep. But Northern Virginia Community College won't re-admit him, or give him his transcripts until he pays a $2,719.50 bill for the last semester. He enrolled under the GI Bill and says he was told his tuition was all covered.
"He said don't worry, you're 100 percent covered," Stutsman says he was told by counselors at NOVA.
In 2001, Stutsman dropped out of his first year at college after 9-11 to join the Marines. He was 19, and determined to do his part. It's what his dad always told him.
"He used to say, 'Those who can, have a moral obligation to help.'"
He was in Iraq in a matter of months and experienced some of the fiercest fighting as troops stormed Fallujah. He tries to block out the horrible things that happened. He saw friends lose their lives.
"It's hard to talk about."
Stutsman left the Marines, joined the California Highway Patrol, and then last December moved to Northern Virginia where his wife had a job lined up. Stutsman had always dreamed of becoming a lawyer, and he decided it was time to get started on finishing college.
He considered finding a job and going to night school, but the GI Bill seemed like a wonderful option. He enrolled at NOVA and the Veterans Administration paid the in-state tuition.
"If I owed anything, they would have said so. They said I was good to go," Stutsman said.
Then, a few weeks ago, when he went to NOVA's Annadale campus to enroll for the summer, he was told since he holds his residency in California, he had to pay out-of-state tuition.
NOVA then sent him a letter threatening to send his name to a collection agency and tack on 30 percent to his bill if he doesn't pay by June 22, today.
It's possible the people in the billing department at NOVA didn't know about the big change to the GI Bill that occured in August. It saves the program money by only paying for in-state tuitions. Some colleges have Yellow Ribbon funds which make up the difference, but NOVA does not.
Stutsman was unaware of the change and he says nobody told him. They admited him last January knowing he was a California resident, but told him he'd be completely covered by the GI Bill.
"I feel like I was lied to," said Stutsman. He says if he had known he'd have to pay out-of-state tuition, he would not have enrollled.
A NOVA spokesperson says they are looking into Stutsman's case to see if they can help.