The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Landmark G.I. Bill to take effect, Veterans' advocates praise new benefits and examine potential shortfalls

There's no doubt that the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill will bring unprecedented opportunities to this generation's warfighters. Today's volunteer force will be able to earn a four-year college degree from some of the nation's best public institutions without having to fork over a single dime.

To read AMVETS' official release about the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, Click Here.

This morning, AMVETS National Publications Editor Isaac Pacheco, a post-9/11 veteran who plans to use his new G.I. Bill, spoke to the merits of the new benefit in an Associated Press story picked up by media outlets around the world.

However, veterans' advocates acknowledge that the new G.I. Bill is not perfect, and that some minor shortfalls will need to be addressed in the coming months, including tuition reimbursement inequities for student attending private colleges in places like California, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Another inequity that recently came to the attention to American Veteran was the situation facing former Army Staff Sgt. Shimon Starfury, who is pursuing a masters degree in film at Chapman University in California.

Starfury originally enlisted in the Army in the late 1980s and served a combat tour during the first Gulf War. He separated from the service and earned a bachelor's degree in the 1990s, then reenlisted in 2002 to once again serve overseas.

After only six month in Iraq, Starfury was injured and had to return stateside. Though he remains eligible for Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits, his time on active duty prior to 9/11 does not count toward his total eligibility, meaning that he only has access to 50 percent of the Chapter 33 entitlements.

In most other states, Starfury's Chapter 33 benefits would still represent a marked increase over his Montgomery G.I. Bill entitlement of $1,300 per month. However, since California's current tuition reimbursement is nonexistent, Starfury is only eligible for 50 percent of the housing and fees allowances, which would only amount to about $1,200 per month.

Starfury said he was surprised that his benefit would actually be lower under the new G.I. Bill and that he couldn't understand why his injury and prior military service would not count toward the new benefit.

Thankfully, Chapman University has signed Yellow Ribbon agreements with the VA, which offer matching tuition with a VA contribution for student-veterans. Though this will help alleviate the burden for students like Starfury, the Yellow Ribbon program is not a cure-all for prior-service inequities.

AMVETS discussed California's situation in an interview with a Sacramento, Calif. NPR affiliate this morning.

Though the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill represents a tremendous opportunity for today's veterans, AMVETS will continue to monitor its implementation and look for ways to ensure that the bill lives up to its expectations for all who have served honorably since 9/11.

As always, American Veteran is eager to hear what you have to say about the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Check back with American Veteran Online on Monday, as we cover the official G.I. Bill kick-off with President Obama and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) at George Mason University in Virginia.

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