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Veteran losing the battle for earned education benefits

By Jed Boal | Posted - May 31, 2010 at 10:20 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- On the day America remembers those who gave their lives for our country, one Utah Marine veteran wonders how his country forgot about him.

Sam Gilligan joined the Marine Corps right out of high school in 1999. He fought in Iraq and received an Honorable Discharge after eight years of service.

"I don't regret my time in the military. I loved my experience," he said.

But after a four-year struggle to get the education benefits he earned, he has lost a war of red tape with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"I'm upset and sad, really," Gilligan said. "They concluded that they had found that there had been a mistake in my record, yet they are denying the claims anyway."


Gilligan estimates he spent hundreds of hours making phone calls, filing papers and getting the runaround as he applied for the $10,000 in education benefits he earned. "They concluded that they had found that there had been a mistake in my record, yet they are denying the claims anyway."

Gilligan estimates he spent hundreds of hours making phone calls, filing papers and getting the runaround as he applied for the $10,000 in education benefits he earned.

KSL first told the veteran's tale two years ago. An attorney helped him with appeals and a board hearing, at no charge, and Sen. Orrin Hatch intervened. After that story aired, Gilligan says the VA responded with a flurry of activity and promises to get it right -- but no benefits.

"It just really doesn't make a lot of sense to me," Gilligan said. "If they found the problem, they should be able to remedy it."

Several times, he was even told he would get his benefits.

On March 12, in a letter sent to Sen. Hatch, the Board of Veterans' Appeals issued a final denial. It states, "The Board is sympathetic to the Veteran's situation, especially in light of the fact that he was incorrectly denied benefits during his eligibility period."

The letter even cites the "procedural confusion," but concludes, "the Board shall be bound in its decision by the regulations of the Department."

A clerical error, from what Gilligan can discern.

"Just seem a little bit absurd that they would be able to say that they made a mistake, and yet not do anything about it."

Gilligan never even received that letter.

He continues to work toward a degree in social work and pays for his education with loans and grants.

What bothers Gilligan most about the bureaucratic blockade is that he says he was made to feel like he had done something wrong.

"So at the end to finally admit it and not do anything about it is an extra slap in the face," he said.

At this point, Gilligan will likely close his file.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says Gilligan can file a motion with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. But, he says, at this point, he's done with the paperwork.

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com

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Jed Boal

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