The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday March 28th

UNC student veterans to file lawsuit

Hayleigh Bruch-Perez relocated to North Carolina with her husband and daughter in hopes of enrolling in a university once her military service was complete.

Bruch-Perez, who is originally from Iowa, has owned a home in North Carolina since 2008.

Despite her four-year residency in the state, UNC-Pembroke still classified her as an out-of-state student for tuition purposes when she was admitted to the university in November 2011.

After unsuccessfully appealing her residency status to the university, she reached out for help.

She contacted the Student Veterans Advocacy Group, which plans to join her as a plaintiff in a suit against the UNC system for discrimination of student veterans, said Jason Thigpen, cofounder and president of the group.

Bruch-Perez said the difference in out-of-state and in-state tuition rates — $9,207 for the 2012-13 academic year — was more than she could afford.

And since she is no longer recognized as a resident by the state of Iowa, Bruch-Perez said her university education is in limbo.

“My main concern is that if I’m not a resident of the state of North Carolina, what state does (UNC-P) think I reside in?”

Mark Waple, the attorney representing the Student Advocacy Group, could not discuss whether any litigation is pending. But Thigpen said the group intends to file against the system by the middle of this week.

Laura Fjeld, vice president and general counsel for the system’s legal affairs staff, declined to comment until the lawsuit has been filed.

Thigpen said the impending lawsuit will allege inconsistent and unfair practices in the treatment of veterans using GI Bill benefits in North Carolina.

Specifically, the Student Veterans Advocacy Group will accuse the
UNC system of refusing to grant some veterans in-state residency for tuition purposes.

The lawsuit will also allege a broad lack of services, facilities and resources for both student veterans and their dependents.

Thigpen said the decision to file a lawsuit against the system is the culmination of numerous firsthand accounts of mistreatment and the system’s reluctance to provide him with adequate information concerning GI Bill revenues.

Bruch-Perez said she was also denied in-state tuition through the state’s active-duty spouse tuition waiver. Even though her husband moved here in February and is now active duty, she was denied in-state tuition because the semester began in January.

She said she hopes the suit will benefit those in a similar situation.

“I want this to change for myself, my friends and other veterans that are going through the same thing,” she said.

Thigpen, a Purple Heart recipient and Iraq War veteran, said the lawsuit stands for more than a dispute about tuition and benefits.

“Finding these inequities and issues that family members are having to struggle with after having done service to our nation is very disparaging and upsetting.”

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