No In-State Tuition Waivers for Florida Student Veterans, Yet

student_vetAmong the handful of veterans’ bills considered by Florida lawmakers this year was legislation that would have granted in-state tuition rates to all veterans using the Post 9-11 G-I Bill.

The lower, in-state tuition waiver was a top priority for Florida student veterans.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters of South Pasadena sponsored the House bill.

“The senate wouldn’t hear it,” Peters said. “I’m extremely disappointed about it. The veterans’ organizations are upset about it. The veterans’ school organizations are upset about it.”

Peters has two theories why in-state tuition for student veterans failed. She thinks her bill was hurt when it was combined with a committee bill. Also, she said concerns about cost could have killed it.

“My personal belief, the House’s belief was that waiver that fiscal impact is something we shouldn’t be concerned about and we should make sure our veterans have the opportunity to come to Florida.” Peters said.

Only about a dozen states have enacted laws to make sure GI Bill students don’t get charged out-of-state tuition. But the benefit is becoming a draw as more young men and women leave the military and begin using their GI Bill education benefits..

“They (student veterans) will definitely go to places like Texas, Virginia that have those opportunities for them,” said Ray Mollison, an Army veteran and president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association.

Mollison grew up in Florida so in-state tuition is not an issue for him, but it is for many of his colleagues.

“It’s definitely a setback,” Mollison said. “It kind of surprised us all, but there has been steady progress that has been made with the bill.”

He’s confident that instate tuition for vets will pass next year. He plans to rally the 1700 veterans at the USF Tampa campus and others to “bring a big voice” to be heard next time in Tallahassee.

Rep. Peters is optimistic about next year too.

“I will ask the speaker to leave it as a stand-alone bill,” Peters said. “Florida is the most veteran friendly state in the country and we have to keep working to make it even stronger and better.”

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Shinseki to Student Vets: Graduate, Graduate, Graduate

VA Sec. Eric Shinseki Photo credit: va.gov

VA Sec. Eric Shinseki Photo credit: va.gov

Roughly 2 million veterans and their family members are eligible for tuition, books and living expenses under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

And like every budget line in Washington, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told the annual gathering of Student Veterans of America that  their education benefits need to show a “return on investment”  or risk being cut.

This is the fourth time Shinseki has addressed the SVA national conference and each time he’s carried the same message.

“The one word speech I usually give is graduate, graduate, graduate,” Shinseki said punctuating his words for emphasis. “If I sound like your dad, I am. I’m paying most of your bills.”

But paying those education benefits could have a cost if the VA can’t show results.

The problem is there is very little data on student veteran graduation rates.

However, there were two media reports last year that used unsubstantiated data claiming extremely high dropout rates. Until there’s good data, veterans’ organizations say they have to continually refute the two unsubstantiated reports.

Shinseki reported that progress is being made. More than 2600 schools are now voluntarily reporting graduation rates to the VA. He said between June 2011 and December 2012 the reporting schools notified the VA that more than 62,000 veterans graduated and 4,800 completed programs.

It was standing room only for VA Sec. Eric Shinseki's keynote address at the 2013 Student Veterans of America convention in Orlando last week.

It was standing room only for VA Sec. Eric Shinseki’s keynote address at the 2013 Student Veterans of America convention in Orlando last week.

“The best measurement of success is completion rates for those who enter the education realm or the training realm,” Shinseki said. “It’s not who goes in the front door but who completes the program and moves on to successful lives.”

The VA just signed an agreement with the Student Veterans of America organization and the National Student Clearing House to create data base for post 9-11 GI bill beneficiaries.

“We are now entering the fourth year of the post 9-11 GI bill. Shot clock ticks, we need to get as much energy into this so we benefit veterans who have this opportunity that only comes around once in a rare period,” Shinseki said. “I’m a Vietnam generation guy, we didn’t have this.”

He said the original GI Bill for WWII veterans only lasted 12 years and during that time, 7.8 million GIs got an education.

Shinseki advised the 600 SVA members attending the conference to continue to do the hard work they did while serving in the military. And like a father-figure, he told the young men and women he was very proud of them.

“Do good. Take advantage of this opportunity, but help other veterans who are also going through this process with you,” Shinseki said. “You’re not a formation. There are not commanders, no first sergeants in this group. But you’re a unit. You have that shared experience. You know how to take care of each other. You know how to start a run and finish it.”

He said he would be there to cheer them on, open doors and provide resources — but he can’t write their papers or take their tests and that student veterans should be there to help each other.

Veteran Graduate Thankful for Battle Buddy, GI Bill and USF

Army Specialist Cheyenne Forsythe served on a Combat Stress Control Team in Iraq, 2003.

By Cheyenne Forsythe

Graduate of the University of South Florida: Green to Gold

Long after we come back from our deployments and our service to our country is officially over, we continue to serve our nation in ways you may not always see or hear about. Behind this anonymity, we take pride in continuing to serve the country and its citizens, which have given us so much.

We may not always show it, but we appreciate the New GI Bill, the opportunities for employment, housing for the disabled, and the “atta-boys” from our fellow countrymen.

Over the last several years, I’ve taken the opportunity granted by my service to use up all of the GI Bill that I was promised and some assistance Vocational Rehabilitation had granted me to complete the undergraduate portion of my education. On August 4th, 2012, after what seems like a lifetime of hard work and study, I’ll finally walk across the stage at my bachelor’s degree, commencement ceremony. Not only that, I’ll finally get to see the look on my mother’s face that I’ve been looking forward to.

Cheyenne and Joy share a quiet moment on a Pinellas County beach.

My son will also be there to see the example every father should have the opportunity to provide for their child. There were many people along the way that helped me keep my eyes focused on the prize and provided the right example for me. From my wife, Joy to my social worker, Ann, there have been many along the way who have been by my side from the very beginning of this journey at USF. I’ve been extremely lucky to find a great group of friends and professionals who were there, throughout my progress towards completing this degree. The staff at the university is a very special group of people. Any soldier looking for a university should put the University of South Florida at the top of the list.

I got the idea to attend the University of South Florida from a battle buddy I’d met, in 2003, while serving in Iraq. I met Andrew Pogany on a Tikrit palace compound in early October of that year. Andrew is an alumnus of the university. Many of you are familiar with Andrew’s story. He was the first soldier to be charged with cowardice since the Vietnam War. I came to my battle buddy’s defense when I wrote a letter to the editor after seeing his face on the cover of the Army Times with the word “Coward,” written beneath it.

Andrew was no coward and I promised him that I would stick by him while he worked on clearing his good name. Eventually, all of the charges were dropped. You see, in the Army, cowardice is deadly. It was once punished by trial and a firing squad.

Cheyenne represented veterans with “invisible wounds” during the 2010 Florida Ride 2 Recovery from Tampa’s MacDill AFB to Jacksonville.

From our initial meeting, through all of the legal proceedings, I followed his story and became a vocal advocate for soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Today, Andrew, who was once an Army interrogator, has now also become a full time advocate for soldiers suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Over the years, we communicated via phone, text, and Facebook and together, we participated in a Ride 2 Recovery event from MacDill Air Force Base to Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

See, I’d taken to isolating myself and the program helps disabled vets get motivated and out into society, once again, with a big accomplishment under their belt. You can visit the R2R website or on Facebook.

Throughout all the tests and all the late nights or whenever I had to buckle down and handle what I thought was a difficult situation, all I had to think was, “If Andrew can go through what he went through and make it out on top, then so can I.”

Well, Andrew, the circle is now complete. Your example has served to inspire me to this end. I hope I can do the same for any veteran reading this, getting off active duty, and heading back into the classroom.

Despite whatever you think might be standing in your way, whether physical or mental, you can dream big and make it happen. There are incredible people, all around you, waiting to support you. All you have to do is take the first step.

New GI Bill Calculator for Student Veterans

Photo courtesy of IAVA.org

As a Veteran, you’ve earned certain benefits, but the required paperwork needed to figure out your benefits eligibility can be daunting.

Enter the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association which created an online New GI Bill Calculator to help every veteran receive the benefits they fought for.

To quote from the organization’s website, “(the) IAVA is committed to empowering new veterans like you for future success.”

The IAVA also provides some helpful answers to often asked questions such as New GI Bill eligibility, transferability, and how to apply for the benefits: Click here to visit the Frequently Asked Questions section.

 

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