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February 27, 2008 > Government Issued Bill of life

Government Issued Bill of life

By Shari Wargo
Photos By Shari Wargo

In 1944, President Roosevelt signed the GI Bill and changed the lives of eight million veterans. The GI Bill provides veterans with an income to help pay for college. When first introduced, veterans received around $300 a month. Those who had never dreamed of, or didn't know they could go to college suddenly were attending school and achieving great things. Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman said that in the 1950s the GI Bill allowed him to go to college. Jerome Kohlberg, co-founder of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts private equity firm and a well-known name on Wall Street, went to Swathmore College, Harvard Business School and then Columbia Law School because the GI Bill gave him the opportunity of an education.

Kohlberg recently founded the Fund for Veterans' Education (FVE) because while the cost of living and tuition for college has gone up, funds available to veterans have decreased and created what "The Journal News" said Kohlberg calls the "GI Gap," the difference between the monies veterans receive for college and the actual cost of an education. Unlike the 50s when the GI Bill covered the expenses of college, the $1,101 per month veterans receive now is not equivalent to the cost of education.

This gap is due to a variety of circumstances. Some veterans have served in multiple branches of the military and may only receive funds from one. Reserve or National Guard veterans are given less money from the GI Bill (around $400 per month for education), though called to active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan beside fellow military personnel, A final factor is that funds for the GI Bill have decreased, while costs for education - and other expenses - have gone up.

Veterans pay $1,200 into a "combat tax" upon entering the military in order to receive GI Bill funds later on, but veterans lose their GI Bill benefits if they do not use them upon return from war. About 30 percent of veterans lose their benefits because they don't use them immediately or still can't afford college - the "GI Gap" is too great.

FVE is adding monies to crush the GI Gap. "The GI Bill wasn't just a benefit for veterans, it was an investment. The economy boomed. The middle class was created and the country as a whole benefited," said Matthew Boulay, United States Marine Corps veteran of the war in Iraq and Program Director for FVE, of the benefits of the original GI Bill when first introduced. "Today, the reality is that education opportunities for veterans have shrunk and cost of education has increased and benefits have decreased. So the Fund for Veterans' Education was established. The fund is guided by a single founding principle: when we send our young men and women into combat we have a responsibility to take care of them when they come home," he added.

Boulay noted that FVE plans to award a thousand scholarships to veterans of all branches of service, including the National Guard and Reserve, over the next three years. "We are going to send students to all types of schools; public, private, four-year, two-year, vocational and technical schools as well," he said. Scholarships totaling more than $1,000,000 will be awarded to veterans from all 50 states and the District of Columbia who are pursuing an undergraduate degree.

On Tuesday, Feb. 19, FVE presented one of their first scholarships for the spring and fall 2008 terms to Joseph Nannery at Fremont City Hall. FVE is presenting two awards to every state and the District of Columbia for these school terms. Nannery graduated from Irvington High School (IHS) in Fremont and said he joined the Marines in 1993 because he wanted to serve his country. He achieved the rank of Sergeant during his eight years of active duty in the Marines.

Upon enlisting in the California National Guard in 2001, Nannery was deployed to Iraq and served as infantry squad leader in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Nannery is now attending Ohlone College in Fremont as a full time student at night in environmental studies while working full time as a project analyst for Earthbound Homes, a green residential contractor in Santa Clara. He is also assigned to the California National Guard Officer Candidate Program as a "Potential Officer Candidate." Nannery plans to pursue a law degree.

Mayor Wasserman presented a proclamation to both FVE and Nannery for their strides and service. FVE showed a video discussing the goals of FVE and the need for America to support its veterans. "The Fund for Veterans' Education has two goals. The first is to get scholarship dollars in the hands of today's veterans. The second is to provide a model for this country, and for congress, to remind them of what this country did for veterans after WWII," said Boulay in a segment of the video. Pete Murchison, IHS Principal, had a similar remark during the proclamation ceremony, "In a volunteer Army, when you provide these sorts of opportunities what you ensure is you get the best and the brightest to step forward and serve their country knowing that despite the fact that they're putting themselves at risk every day and it is a very dangerous role to play, that their family and the community will be served if they are given the chance to continue their education."

Nannery remarked, "I am truly honored to receive this proclamation on behalf of the Fund for Veterans Education, which I believe is one of the most important and necessary initiatives facing America today. Whether you are for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or you're against them, one thing that I am confidant we can all agree on is that we must be supportive of the loyal brave men and women who are proudly wearing the uniforms right now currently serving our Armed Forces fighting for this country."

Nannery said he recommends that veterans look at the FVE website, "Go to the website, look now. When I first looked at the website, it had one page. It's now multi-pages. They have a lot of information, they have a lot of supporters, and they outline your GI benefits for you. It's exceptional. If any veteran goes armed with the information from that website in going to meet with their VA Rep they should be able to find financing for school."

"Veterans sacrifice so much for this country. Why should all of these brave men and women have to come home and sacrifice more after we've left the battlefield and fighting? Why should we return and have to fight to get a college education?" Nannery said he would leave the answer to that question to those in Washington, but at the same time finds it discouraging that there are organizations to help so many people, while veterans are having to help other veterans, a thought that is likely on the minds of many who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.

After Sept. 11, 2001 many Americans joined the military and put their goals and life plans on hold to serve their country, and as Boulay said during the ceremony, they didn't join to get money or free college because those in the military aren't highly paid and it doesn't completely pay for college, but to serve and unite in order to protect those they love. Now, they are returning as veterans and FVE is trying to help them get back on the path to their education and dreams to improve America, to invest in these Americans as the future of the United States, and offer them a GI Bill of life.

FVE will be accepting applications for its' second round of scholarships beginning Tuesday, April 1. Tell your friends and family, or fellow military personnel of this opportunity if they are a veteran and need assistance in obtaining their college degree or vocational training.

More information about the FVE scholarship and opportunities available to veterans can be found at www.veteranseducationfund.org and scholarshipamerica.org.

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