Veterans enrolled in Prescott flight school shut out of training

A group of veterans moved to northern Arizona from across the country to attend flight school, but just as they were set to begin training, they learned their program had been suspended.

Those 40 veterans are now trying to figure out what to do next.

For decades, veterans have been able to go to school and have it paid for through the G.I. Bill -- that includes flight schools.

There are strict rules regarding how the Veterans Administration pays for certain programs and it has suspended funding for the flight training program through Yavapai College. But the veterans who planned to start that program this month didn't get notified until it was too late.

The summer courses are on hold for dozens of veterans at North-Aire Flight School. Many of them drastically changed their lives to come here and train.

"I was actually in the middle of packing up my house when I got the e-mail from the college that program had been suspended," said Patrick Needham.

Needham retired from the Air Force and enrolled in the program with the flight school and Yavapai College. He sold his house in Omaha, left a well paying job, moved his wife and children to Prescott, only to find out his dream of becoming a pilot would be on hold.

"They just kind of like suckerpunched us again is how it feels.  Just took the benefits away that we deserved for no reason and no fault of my own and that I planned on. Absolutely planned on that. That is the whole reason we moved out here and changed our whole life," he said.

Needham isn't alone. About 40 veterans were supposed to start the program this summer. Now their future is uncertain.

"It was pretty devastating seeing that it was my dream for the past eight years and seven years in the military for it," said Emily Webster, who moved to Arizona from Virginia.

The VA has a policy that funding for at least 15 percent of students in a program like this one has to come from outside the post 9/11 G.I. Bill.

The flight school never had a problem in the past and says thanks to a new way of applying that policy they've been punished and are now scrambling to be in compliance and get their students in the air.

"We need pilots and this is a good way to get them. These guys are great. They have the training. They have been in aviation their whole life.. all of them are from the Air Force and the Navy.. they know what airplanes are and they are great candidates to become pilots. And we are going to loose that," said Greg Reverdiau of North-Aire Flight School.

If someone were to pay out of pocket, the cost for two years in the flight school would be about $100,000, so the G.I. Bill is the only option for these veterans.

They have been writing letters to legislators, including Senator John McCain, and the school has applied for a waiver that would allow the vets who've been shut out to begin as soon as possible, but it isn't clear when there will be a decision on that waiver.
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