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VILSECK, Germany — Other soldiers told Pfc. Andrew Sanchez he wouldn’t be eligible for veteran benefits if he got a medical discharge from the Army because of broken bones in his feet and recurring migraine headaches.

The 20-year-old Cimarron, N.M., native was one of about 30 soldiers who attended a briefing Wednesday at Vilseck by Jerel York, one of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ two overseas military services coordinators in Europe.

Sanchez, who serves with the 529th Ordnance Company at Vilseck, expects to be medically discharged from the Army next month. He said he’d been in pain since an incident in basic training after he joined the Army 18 months ago.

“I have broken bones in both feet that I got during basic. A couple of my buddies fell out of a road march. I picked up their rucksacks and when I got done that was it,” he said of his foot injuries.

Sore feet meant Sanchez had to stop playing sports and can walk and swim only every other weekend.

He plans to get surgery on his feet after he gets out and then go to college, he said. But he added that other soldiers told him he would not be eligible for any benefits such as the GI Bill because he had not completed three quarters of his enlistment term.

But York said Sanchez was eligible for the GI Bill for the length of time that he’d served, and that he was also a strong candidate for the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation program.

“Vocational rehab assists a veteran who is service-disabled to overcome the disability. The Army has only trained him (Sanchez) in skills that are very physical. He has no degree. Now he has got foot problems and migraine headaches,” York said.

The Vocational Rehabilitation program could potentially pay full college tuition, books and supplies as well as provide a counselor to help veterans through the program and assist them in job placement, York said.

“There is no limit on fees,” he said. “I know people who went to medical school on Voc Rehab.”

Lt. Col. Steven Bias, 42, of the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization, and Security, also attended the VA briefing. He said he planned to retire next year after more than 20 years’ service.

Bias and other soldiers took notes during a three-hour briefing as York outlined a range of VA benefits including a home loan program, the GI Bill, health care, disability, death and funeral benefits.

The Knoxville, Tenn., native, who had surgery on a knee for a sports injury, said he was also interested in the Vocational Rehabilitation program.

“There may be some educational benefits available for me. Maybe some money to work on future education and a different career field,” said Bias, who plans to work as a teacher or for the state of Tennessee after retiring.

“I’d recommend anyone considering getting out or retiring come here to see what your benefits are,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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