Florida Student Veterans to Battle for In-State Tuition

Marine Corps veteran Kelly Matisi is a University of South Florida student who got hit with Florida's soaring out-of-state tuition rates.

Marine Corps veteran Kelly Matisi is a University of South Florida student who got hit with Florida’s soaring out-of-state tuition rates.

From Gov. Rick Scott to local lawmakers, elected officials love to brag that Florida is “the most veteran friendly state” in the nation.

Many student veterans believe it’s time the politicians prove it and give out-of-state student veterans tuition waivers so they can pay significantly cheaper, in-state tuition rates while attending Florida universities, colleges and trade schools.

More than a dozen other states give all student veterans in-state tuition rates regardless of their state of origin.

“In Texas, all veterans get in-state tuition so I guess it was something I never really thought about,” said Kelly Matisi, a 9-year Marine Corps veteran who transferred to the University of South Florida with the goal of getting into the physical therapy doctoral program.

A veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Matisi was surprised to find that Florida did not offer student veterans in-state tuition rates. And it hit her pocketbook hard. Her tuition soared from $1,300 a semester to more than $8,500 when she transferred from a Texas university.

Matisi is not alone. A legislative analysis shows that more than 500 undergraduate and graduate student veterans paid out-of-state tuition rates totaling more than $8 million to Florida universities. Florida community colleges received more than $1 million from out-of-state student veterans.

Kelly Matisi, a 9-year veteran of the Marine Corps, in Iraq.

Kelly Matisi, a 9-year veteran of the Marine Corps, in Iraq.

“I work in the Office of Veteran Services. We’ve gotten calls from veterans asking that very question: ‘Do you guys give in-state tuition to veterans?’ And I have to tell them no.” Matisi said.

She said without the waiver it’s almost like Florida is turning its back on those who have served.

“We didn’t serve the State of Florida. We didn’t serve the State of Texas. We served the United States,” Matisi said. “So, we kind of feel like picking and choosing who gets a certain amount of tuition and who doesn’t based on where you enlisted, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

One thing the student veterans have going for them is their training. They come from a culture that never says quit. That’s the attitude Ray Mollison, president of the USF Student Veterans Association, adopted when the in-state tuition bill died in a senate committee last session.

“We do have a huge veteran population,” Mollison said last summer. “So, it’s going to bring a big voice next time when this bill does go up there again. And I think there’s going to be a lot more pull and a lot more active people trying to make this happen because the State of Florida has a lot of veterans.”

Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Kelly Matisi (center) with her brother and mother.

Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Kelly Matisi (center) with her brother and mother.

And student veterans’ “big voice” is already being heard. House Speaker Will Weatherford was already predicting passage of the tuition waiver for out-of-state student veterans.

“I think it’s important that we give our veterans the opportunity to go back to school to get the education that they need in the 21st century to make sure they can find employment. These are men and women who have served our country admirably across the country and across the world. And we owe that to them and I feel very confident that we’ll get a bill done like that this year,” Weatherford said in December.

But just in case, Matisia plans to join other student veterans for a trip to Tallahassee in February to lobby lawmakers for passage of (Senate Bill)SB 84 or the House version, (Proposed Committee Bill)PCB 14-01.

You can listen to the radio version of this story at WUSF News.

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President, Congress Acknowledge Recovering Army Ranger

Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg (left) shakes hands with Secretary Eric Shinseki before the State of the Union address. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg (left) shakes hands with Secretary Eric Shinseki before the State of the Union address. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

If you didn’t see last night’s State of the Union address, you missed a touching moment that showed our elected officials can agree on some things like honoring Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg. The standing ovation the Ranger received lasted more than two minutes by some accounts. Here’s an account from the VA Blog – Vantage Point.

And there’s a special “shout-out” to the folks over at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Medical Center for never giving up and helping Cory out of his coma.

By Renaldo Leal

Last night, after years of pain and rehabilitation, Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg sat with the first lady as President Obama delivered the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C. His father and caretaker, Craig, was next to him in the House gallery when the president began to talk about Cory’s injuries and long road to recovery.

“Cory is here tonight.  And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit,” said President Obama.

What followed was a moment that united all in attendance and Americans watching at home. As Cory stood up from his seat with the help of his father, the House chamber erupted with applause. The smile, thumbs-up and a wave from the soldier to the commander in chief was not only endearing – it was a shining glimpse into how far Cory had come.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for him,” said Craig earlier on Tuesday as he and Cory visited VA headquarters to meet with Secretary Eric Shinseki. “There is a lot going on in America today, and if Cory’s story can add some inspiration to people’s lives … that’s what it’s all about.”

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NPR Correspondent Gives Update on Homeless Veterans

NPR correspondent Quill Lawrence. Courtesy of NPR

NPR correspondent Quill Lawrence. Courtesy of NPR

As part of the annual homeless count held each winter by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, NPR correspondent Quil Lawrence hit the streets last night in New York City.

He accompanied volunteers during their “point-in-time” survey looking for and counting the homeless at parks and in the train station.

After a night out, Lawrence said he only met one homeless man who said he was a veteran. But the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are 150,000 homeless veterans at any one time.

It’s also estimated about 1 percent of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan wars become homeless. But the VA changed its approach offering “housing first” which is now drawing down the number of homeless and preventing others at risk from slipping into homelessness.

Recently, Phoenix became the first city to declare it had ended homelessness among veterans which is a stated goal of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Florida is one of the top “hot spots” for homeless veterans making it the focus of VA officials who have the stated goal of ending veteran homelessness by December 2015. The other states where veteran homelessness is considered a problem are Texas, California and New York.

Listen to Quil Lawrence’s full report.

Phoenix First to End Homelessness Among Veterans

Homeless_Programs[1]There are no more homeless veterans in Phoenix, AZ according to a report in the New York Times. The city has become the first to identify and find housing for its veterans who have a history of living on the street.

In 2011, by a city count, there were 222 chronically homeless veterans here, a vulnerable, hard-to-reach population of mostly middle-age men, virtually all battling some type of physical or mental ailment along with substance abuse. Federal and city officials acknowledged that was not an exact number, but it is widely regarded as the best measure of the veteran population.

Last month, the last 41 members of that group were placed in temporary housing. Shane Groen, a director at the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, one of the city’s partners in the program, said the goal was to have them all in permanent housing by Feb. 14.

The report also said that the mayor of Salt Lake City announced that all their chronically homeless veterans had been placed in homes. Both cities are using the approach of “Housing First” so their situations can be stabilized and then treatment made available for addiction or mental illness. The report also noted that the retention rate nationally is 85 percent for homeless veterans staying in their permanent housing but that rises to 94 percent in Phoenix.

You can read more about the Phoenix effort to end homelessness among veterans here and find information the VA national homelessness program here.

France to Flanders: British World War One Diaries Go Online

Wounded British soldiers in a trench during World War I. (Library of Congress)

Wounded British soldiers in a trench during World War I. (Library of Congress)

The British National Archives is digitizing 1.5 million pages of unit diaries from World War One. Their effort is twofold: to preserve the original documents that are being worn out after 45 years of public use, and to offer the WWI documents online.

OperationWarDiary.org was developed to enlist “citizen historians” to help with revealing the stories from the Western Front: Working together we will make previously inaccessible information available to academics, researchers and family historians worldwide, leaving a lasting legacy for the centenary of the First World War. 

There’s a 10 minute video to watch if you’re interested with helping to go through the diaries. From France to Flanders, the first batch of diaries gives “the real-time account of the first three cavalry and the first seven infantry divisions who were part of the first wave of British army troops deployed.

Tampa’s Wheelchair Rugby Team Hosts Intn’l Tournament

An opposing team player is upended during a Tampa Generals game at the 2013 Coloplast International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament.

An opposing team player is upended during a Tampa Generals game at the 2013 Coloplast International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament.

The Tampa Bay region hosted the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in July 2013. It will be home to the “Frozen Four” in 2016 — and college football’s “championship game” in 2017.

But this weekend, it’s hosting the 22nd Annual Tampa International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament featuring teams from Germany, Brazil, and throughout the U.S. including the Tampa Generals.

Navy veteran Ryan "Bully" Lindstrom tapes up his hands and arms all the way to the elbows to help prevent injury during his rugby game.

Navy veteran Ryan “Bully” Lindstrom tapes up his hands and arms all the way to the elbows to help prevent injury during his rugby game.

The Tampa International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament is being held at the All Peoples Center, 6105 E. Sligh Ave., Tampa. Games are scheduled Friday, Saturday with the finals on Sunday.

Several members of the Tampa Generals Wheelchair Rugby Team are military veterans such as Ryan Lindstrom, nicknamed Bully for the tuft of white hair that looks like a bull’s-eye in his brownish crop of locks.

Lindstrom was in the Navy training to work on Tomahawk missiles when a car accident landed him in a wheelchair. But, that began his love quad rugby.

“I still had my neck brace on – watching them go up and down the court at a Tampa tournament 10 years ago – and I was ‘Oh yeah! I’m playing this’,” Lindstrom said at the team practice earlier this week. “Because the contact, it makes you feel like, you’re still an athlete. I know guys that play able body rugby and look at it and go I’m not playing that.”

The 2012-2013 Tampa Generals team photo.

The 2012-2013 Tampa Generals team photo.

Wheelchair rugby is a hybrid with all the strategy of basketball, the scoring system of rugby, the speed of ice hockey and the danger of a demolition derby.

Lindstrom needed nine stitches above his right eye after one fall. Another time, he almost lost his left finger after it got caught between two colliding wheelchairs. But that physical roughness is exactly what attracts many of the players.

Chuck Wood used to play football and was an active scuba diver before a motorcycle accident made him a paraplegic.

“To get in a wheelchair and to find a sport that you can still be aggressive at and have contact, it’s such a good outlet for people in chairs to realize there are still things you can do,” Wood said. “Just because you’re in a chair don’t mean you have to stop living.”

Briona Keeshan, 20, is in her second season with the Tampa Generals.

Briona Keeshan, 20, is in her second season with the Tampa Generals.

Wood is part of the Tampa Generals’ support staff. He works on equipment and plays on the practice squad. He is too “high functioning” to be on the team because the athletes must be quads – have some disability in all four limbs.

But they are athletes make no mistake. They prepare and practice like any athlete.

To make the game more even each player is given a classification number of 1 through 5. The total for the four rugby players on the court cannot exceed 8.

The classification number is knocked down a half point for female players like Briona Keeshan. She called herself a “low-pointer.”

“As a low pointer, you have to, if you’re running a play and someone on your team is trying to score, you have to get in the way of the other players and try to stop them,” Keeshan said. “Like in football, you have tackling but here you just stop them with your chair.”

The 20-year-old is in her second season with the Tampa Generals. This is also the second season for Leevi Ylönen a “high-pointer” and one of the fastest on the court.

 Leevi Ylönen, a member of the Finnish National Wheelchair Rugby Team, was recruited to play with the Tampa Generals.

Leevi Ylönen, a member of the Finnish National Wheelchair Rugby Team, was recruited to play with the Tampa Generals.

“I’m a high pointer that means I’ve got lots of function and I’ll be dealing with the ball that’s my job. So, I need to be speedy,” Ylönen said.

The Tampa Generals recruited Ylönen who plays on the Finnish National Team. Just like back in 1996 when the Tampa Generals recruited Dave Ceruti while he was member of the U.S. National team.

“They (Tampa Generals) were the first super power team in the sport where they just dominated,” Ceruti said. “Back then, the Tampa Generals were the gold standard of rugby.”

Ceruti, who goes by Rudy, became a player, then a player-coach, coach and now serves as assistant coach for the Generals. He said the team slipped in its standings a few years back while it was developing a local player base, but the Generals are climbing back to their former dominance.

Navy veteran Davis Celestine plays an offense position with the Tampa Generals.

Navy veteran Davis Celestine plays an offense position with the Tampa Generals.

And the international tournament is part of the team’s path back to the top of the standings.

The tournament is free and open to the public and Ceruti said it’s a fun game for the general public to watch, but with one caveat.

“Most people look at it as a human interest story – like a feel good story – like it’s good that you’re out there and if you want to feel that way fine,” Certuti said. “But that’s not why we’re doing it. We are doing it to win.”

You can listen to a radio story about the Tampa Generals on WUSF Public Radio and watch a practice video of the team below:

5 Top Reasons Why a Civilian Recruiter Won’t Hire a Veteran

Soldiers line up to check in for the CivilianJobs.com job fair sponsored by the Fort Campbell, Ky., Army Career and Alumni Program office. Hundreds of transitioning service members, veterans, and their family members took part in the event.

Soldiers line up to check in for the CivilianJobs.com job fair sponsored by the Fort Campbell, Ky., Army Career and Alumni Program office. Hundreds of transitioning service members, veterans, and their family members took part in the event.

My thanks to Kiersten Downs, a student veteran and anthropology doctoral student who shared an article from the Business Insider that lists 9 reasons why veterans don’t get hired.

It’s written by Sultan Camp, a veteran and military recruiter for Orion International. He shares some consistent themes he’s observed on why transitioning military applicants don’t get hired.

Here are the top 5 reasons he lists:

  1.   You can’t or won’t accept that you’re starting over
  2. You believe you’re unique
  3. Your resume is longer than that of our company’s CEO
  4. You didn’t proof read your resume
  5. You don’t have a LinkedIn profile or even worse it is incomplete

You can read all 9 reasons and fuller explanations by this seasoned recruiter of military personnel here: http://www.careerattraction.com/congratulations-on-your-military-service-now-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-wont-hire-you/#ixzz2powEzzze

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