Veteran owes $1,900 for college class 30 years ago

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PHOENIX -- The federal government says a Valley man owes them for a college class he took more than 30 years ago!

When we say the federal government, we're talking about the Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA says it wants to be paid for a college class an Army vet reportedly took way back in 1975.

Now, Michael Cain says if he owes the money he owes the money, but think about how long it's been and how much the VA wants.

Cain is a retired Army specialist and still vividly remembers his time serving as a helicopter mechanic in Vietnam.

"It was some hard-landing helicopter crashes which the military determined that was the cause of my back injury," Cain said.

And because of that injury, Cain says he's been receiving what's called a service-connected disability check every month from the government.

"I was receiving $541 until I received my check, which is direct deposited, and it was short $55," Cain said.

So, he contacted the VA about the shortage and that's when he heard something that surprised him.

"They said, well, in 1975 I went to college and one of the courses I went to I did not complete so I owe all the tuition fees," Cain said.

And now, even though it's been more than three full decades later, the VA is demanding its money back for that class and will take $55 out of every check until that class is paid for.

But Cain claims he can barely remember the class they're talking about and believes he may have even dropped it at the time.

Still, he can't believe the Army is even pursuing the issue after all this time.

"There's not a statute of limitations after almost 40 years!" he said. "Now they're coming after me for almost 40 years back in money that I shouldn't be entitled to pay back."

3 On Your Side contacted the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to see if a mistake had been made.

They tell us there's no mistake. They want more than $1,900, which includes administrative costs and interest over the course of the three decades, for missing the payment.

Can you believe it?

Cain certainly can't believe it and says $55 every month to pay off that phantom class is going to hurt for the next three years. That's how long it will take to pay it off.

"It's a little upsetting that they are hitting on me after 40 years!" Cain said.

You know, the government gives away all this money for mortgage bailouts and even more money for folks to trade in their clunkers for new cars. And then you have guys like Cain, who has to pay for one college class from 1975!

And to top it off, the VA is charging him interest and administrative fees!

Statement from the Veterans Benefits Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs:

In February 2009, Mr. Cain submitted a claim requesting a higher evaluation for his service-connected lower back condition. While processing this claim, the Regional Office (RO) discovered an annotation in his records indicating Mr. Cain had been overpaid Education benefits. The RO contacted the VA Debt Management Center (DMC) in June 2009, confirming Mr. Cain had an uncollected education debt of $1,966.25. This amount includes $388.25 in accrued interest and administrative costs associated with non-payment of the debt.

VA established a debt of $1,578.00 for the period of October 1 - December 31, 1978, after Mr. Cain terminated his school attendance immediately after enrolling for the year. The DMC verified he was notified of the debt and the procedures for repaying these benefits. At this time, Mr. Cain was not in receipt of recurring VA benefits to allow for recoupment of the debt.

On July 13, 2009, the DMC notified Mr. Cain that collections would be made starting October 1, 2009, at the rate of $55.00 a month from his compensation payments. To date, we have recouped $110.00 toward this debt.