Five student veterans across the country were awarded the 2022 VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship, sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Student Veterans of America (SVA). Proud Rhode Island College accounting major Alex Ortiz, president of RIC's Student Veterans Organization, is one of those five awarded students.
Alex Ortiz is making waves in the ocean state as he plans to use his Fellowship in pursuit of getting Congress to amend the language on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This would eliminate the expiration of veteran benefits within the bill, as well as connect it to the revamped Forever GI Bill. The Post-9/11 GI bill was an act of Congress passed in 2008 that has the government pay tuition and fees, give a monthly housing allowance and a stipend for textbooks and supplies to eligible veterans seeking to attend a four-year university. This bill has a cutoff date within its language stating that a veterans benefits expire within fifteen years of a cutoff date being Jan. 1, 2013. The Forever GI Bill eliminates the fifteen year expiration clause, however this new bill only applies to Veterans discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013.
The transition for veterans back to civilization is one that Ortiz calls "brutal" and is something that is overlooked by many. By the honor of his new Fellowship, Ortiz plans to do right by the brotherhood that is all veterans, with specific plans to help student veterans in their transition from duty to civilization with respect to school.
Ortiz is president of the SVO while also sitting on the finance and electorate commissions of the RIC Student Community Government. Ortiz has no shame when it comes to helping others. In a college news article by Gita Brown, Ortiz says “I would return to the Army in a heartbeat if it were possible,” He goes on to say, “what I miss most is the brotherhood."
Ortiz is an Army veteran who was stationed in both Iraq and Afghanistan, serving between 2006 and 2013 as a wheel vehicle mechanic. He was included on combat-related missions. Ortiz explained to Brown he retired with multiple spinal cord injuries and two traumatic brain injuries. In Brown's article Ortiz said he turned down surgery for a spinal fusion because "it would mean losing 70 percent of the mobility in his spine." This exemplifies the desire Ortiz has to help.
Ortiz will now engage in a full semester of research in order to prepare a one-page brief for the delegates on Capitol Hill. He will speak for five minutes on the issue of the language within the Post-9/11 GI Bill. His biggest question is what started his mission, "why are we using 2013 as the cut off date?"
Before coming to RIC Ortiz had exhausted all of his educational benefits. He now fights for all discharged veterans to have the same benefits regardless of what war they fought. He makes the point that if the bills are for post-9/11 benefits and 9/11 in 2001, then where does the 2013 cutoff date come from; further asking why the Forever-GI Bill neglects those previously discharged while giving better benefits to those discharged now.
Ortiz’s plans will always be about more than himself, he told Brown, “The work I do now is not on my behalf but on behalf of the thousands of veterans who are currently losing their entitlement to the Post-9/11 GI Bill,” he continues, “Though this fellowship lasts three or four months, my hope is that the work continues. I intend to hold a town hall meeting with veterans in Rhode Island to discuss the work I am doing. I also intend to follow up on these policies until they become law and to make myself available to elected officials until a new bill is passed.”