Education After Enlisting? First, Learn to Read the Fine Print

    (Christina Aushana/Guardian)

    NATIONAL NEWS — In the wake of the recently proposed bill
    that would cover in-state tuition for National Guardsmen, it is necessary to
    closely look at current federal legislation governing postsecondary education
    for U.S. veterans: the GI Bill.

    Originally passed in 1944 as the Servicemen’s Readjustment
    Act, its most recent edition theoretically provides GIs with the opportunity to
    receive up to a maximum of $36,141 over 36 months to pay for college tuition.

    Unfortunately, many veterans do not see the original total
    promised to them, and even if they do receive an amount close to that number,
    the process’ bureaucratic loopholes and complicated stipulations confuse many
    soldiers, frequently marking returns from duty with uncertainty. According to
    the Finding Alternatives to Military Enlistment Web site, the average payout
    for veterans is a mere $2,151, which is not even enough to cover UCSD fees for
    one quarter.

    A major criticism levied at the GI Bill deals with
    recruiting issues — people on both sides of the political spectrum have
    condemned the tactics employed by the military in order to get civilians to
    enlist. While tales of straight-out lies and false promises abound, an
    indisputable fact is that one of the main recruiting guarantees is a
    military-funded college education after a soldier’s tour of duty is completed.

    For any student wanting to attend a four-year university,
    $36,000 is nowhere near enough money. Consider also that the total amount that
    the military has given to veterans through the GI Bill is only one-eighth the
    amount it has spent on recruiting, according to the American Friends Service
    Committee, a group that performs service, development and peace programs
    worldwide.

    So why are many enlisting soldiers still under the
    impression that their education will be covered by the military? One of the
    reasons might be that recruiters often throw around the number $70,000, telling
    enlistees that much will be accessible to them upon returning to civilian life.
    It’s true that servicemen can be given 70 grand for college, but just not under
    the GI Bill, as is the general perception. The $70,000 is from of the Army/Navy
    College Fund, which only about one in 20 soldiers are even eligible for.

    On top of not having access to necessary college funds,
    veterans must pay a nonrefundable deposit to the GI Bill to even be considered
    for its benefits later on. To qualify for the GI Bill, a serviceman has to pay
    $100 every month for the first 12 months of active duty, an amount that would
    theoretically be repaid in the future.

    But if a veteran is given a less-than-honorable discharge
    (as around one in four are), leaves the military in fewer than three years (as
    one in three do) or decides later on to not even go to college, the military
    keeps every single penny of that $1,200.

    This year, a group of veterans attending UCSD formed the
    Student Veterans Organization, hoping to build a supportive community for
    veterans on campus and create a forum to better educate their peers on how to
    successfully maneuver the muddled GI Bill. The group has about 20 members,
    representing UCSD’s just-over 200 veterans.

    Earl Warren
    College
    senior Erik Matson served
    six years in the Navy, the first four as an electronics technician specializing
    in satellite communications and the last two as a search-and-rescue swimmer.
    Matson will graduate in December with a degree in human biology and plans to
    attend dental school. His experience with the GI Bill is typical of veterans:
    He returned from his tour of duty and attended junior college before
    transferring to UCSD. According to Matson, the GI Bill is very complicated, and
    makes enrolling and graduating within a normal timeframe very difficult for
    veterans.

    “The only downfall is that you only get 36 months worth of
    benefits,” Matson said. “If you only go to school part time, then you only get
    paid for part time and it will still count toward your 36 months. It can be a
    real hassle when you’re taking classes at different schools and the sessions
    overlap or leave gaps.”

    Last summer Matson took one class during each UCSD summer
    session, two classes at Mesa College
    and a class at Miramar College
    — the equivalent of 20 units. But because
    the junior college classes ended in August and UCSD ended in September,
    he only received part-time funding.

    The problem he raises is a crucial one. The military only
    gives veterans a span of 36 months to complete their education. While some are
    fortunate enough to obtain their degree before the 36-month deadline expires,
    many people switch majors, endure personal problems or simply need extra time
    to decide their academic futures. Similarly, a veteran who attends a vocational
    or two-year school does not have access to the supposed $36,000, but is instead
    paid only for the shorter amount of time they choose to attend school.

    Kenyon Ralph, a Warren
    College
    computer engineering major
    in his second quarter at UCSD, is a half-year into using his GI Bill funds
    after transferring from Palomar and MiraCosta community colleges. Ralph joined
    the Marine Corps in 2001 and made two tours to Iraq
    before leaving the Corps last year with the rank of sergeant. An important
    difference between him and other veterans, as he pointed out, is that he is not
    entirely dependent on the GI Bill to pay for his college education. But his
    awareness of the escalating problems servicemen face with the GI Bill is the
    main reason that he takes such an active role in SVO.

    “Although I don’t have much to complain about, I know a lot
    of people do, which is why we started this vets club,” Ralph said. “We can at
    least try to make the process smoother for future students at UCSD. I’m not
    sure how the government should be fixed, but I think we’re doing what we can to
    improve things at UCSD at least.”

    The fact that veterans must oftentimes fly solo during the
    transition from serviceman to student showcases a blatant failure by the
    military to help facilitate the process. How can the military justify sending
    these young people overseas to fight a war, then deny them an education later?
    If the government is, indeed, hell-bent on continuing wars around the globe,
    the absolute very least it must do is ensure the well-being and futures of the
    very people whose lives are at risk.

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