Enhanced GI Bill to aid students

September 10, 2008 8:40:36 AM PDT
Last year, a half million veterans went to college on the Montgomery GI Bill, a 1984-era system of educational benefits for people who spent time in the military. After a contentious fight in Congress, the benefits have been improved for vets who joined after September 11th, if they can wait a year.

These three men are all students at UC Berkeley. They've all used the GI Bill to pay for part of their educations here. Jason - the Army vet - served in Desert Storm. Bryan, the Marine vet, served two tours in Iraq. Both believe they earned their benefits.

"If my parents had money, I never would have had to go to the Marine Corps. A lot of these kids they get their education handed to them and they don't appreciate it. I worked to get where I am right now," said Bryan Garcia.

"For many vets, getting from City College into a university like Berkeley takes money, it takes a lot of money," said Jason Deitch.

Under the current Montgomery GI Bill, each man paid $100 a month into the program his first year on active duty. That guaranteed them a fixed amount per month toward school after discharge -- currently a maximum of about $1,100 dollars a month for tuition, books and all other expenses for up to 36 months.

Since college takes four years, you can see where that leaves many vets.

"My GI Bill ends in two months, so I'm left with half a semester of finding financial aid and paying tuition on my own," said Javier Tenorio, two tours in Iraq.

It took a fight in Congress between bill sponsors including Virginia Senator Jim Webb and opponents including John McCain. But, this year Congress passed and the president signed a big boost in GI Bill benefits.

Starting next August, recipients will get tuition benefits equal to the fees charged at the most expensive public college in their state. They'll get a monthly housing allowance as well as a $1,000 per year for books. What does that all mean?

"Each of those veterans, wherever they go to school, they're going to be supported, they're going to be able to concentrate on their education and that's going to make, I mean that's just a recipe for success," said Deitch.

UC Berkeley has started a special class for veterans this year to help adjust to college and negotiate a new bureaucracy. They'll also help vets like Bryan Garcia make a painful choice. In order to get the expanded benefits that start next year, he will have to stop taking anymore benefits this year. That means a hunt for financial aid and loans that he's not happy about.

"I think everybody who served in the military, who served their country, should be able to get an education if they choose to, not just get their education, but get it paid for. Because that's the least they can do," said Garcia.

The enhanced GI Bill benefits only affect veterans who've served since 9/11. But, the UC Berkeley class designed to help veterans integrated into campus life accepts vets from any generation. There are at least 151 veterans enrolled at Cal this school year.


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