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New G.I. Bill makes it easier for vets to pursue education

DICKINSON, N.D. -- All things must come to an end -- war included. When the time comes for veterans to return to American soil from Iraq and Afghanistan, many have sought to recapture a sense of normalcy -- as well as their dreams -- through the ...

DICKINSON, N.D. -- All things must come to an end -- war included.

When the time comes for veterans to return to American soil from Iraq and Afghanistan, many have sought to recapture a sense of normalcy -- as well as their dreams -- through the North Dakota University System, using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to make it all possible.

"It is critically important to everyone in our state that returning veterans receive the educational priorities they have earned," said Rhonda Schauer, NDUS state approving agency director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is charged with approving the education and training programs veterans intend to enroll in.

This spring, a revised enrollment report found that NDUS institutions enrolled 2,432 veterans, including 57 students at Dickinson State University, which was named a military-friendly school this year by G.I. Jobs, a veterans' guide for educational and job opportunities.

"We want to help those who have put their lives on the line defending our country," said Johnna Douthit, assistant director of academic records at DSU.


The NDUS institution with the highest veteran enrollment this spring was the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, with 877 veterans.

Carol Anson, veterans/military adviser with the UND Student Success Center, said three veterans who returned from Afghanistan recently enrolled at the school, but she said the number of veterans using their G.I. Bill education benefits has remained about the same as veterans who returned from past conflicts.

The original G.I. Bill, signed into law in July 2008, created a new education benefits program to help military members with their educational goals.

"It's based on the amount of time a veteran served in active duty, so a veteran who has served three or more years in active duty is eligible to have 100 percent of their education paid for," Anson said.

A new version of the bill, released Aug. 1, 2009, provides education benefits for veterans who served on active duty for 90 or more days since Sept. 10, 2001.

"The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is recognized as an improvement over the Montgomery G.I. Bill," said Megan Lutz, public affairs specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.

The new G.I. Bill includes a Yellow Ribbon Program -- a supplementary program and an extension of the benefits provided by the G.I. Bill. There are nine Yellow Ribbon Schools in North Dakota for 2013, including UND, University of Mary, Rasmussen College in Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota State University in Fargo, Jamestown College and at the Minot Air Force Base.

"This program offers up to thousands of extra dollars in financial aid and tuition assistance to military students that attend participating colleges and other education institutions," Schauer said. "It allows students to attend schools which would otherwise be out of their financial reach by covering up to 100 percent of the additional tuition expenses not financed by standard benefits provisions built into the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill."


Unlike federal financial aid available to the average college student, Schauer said veterans' benefits are not included or considered by a university or college because the funds are paid directly to the veteran.

"The aid veterans receive through a university or college is dealt with separately, including any grants or loans veterans may get from traditional financial aid," she said. "Veterans have a 10-year limit to use their G.I. Bill benefits starting at date of separation of the service."

Dependents of veterans may also be eligible for education benefits if the resident veteran was killed in action or died from wounds or disabilities connected to his or her service, or if the veteran was declared a prisoner of war or missing in action.

"Upon being duly accepted for enrollment into any North Dakota state-supported institution of higher education or state-supported technical or vocational school, dependents of these veterans must be allowed to obtain a bachelor's degree or certificate of completion free of any tuition and fee charges," Schauer said.

When veterans return home, they are coming back from stressful situations, so Anson said the country offers to pay for their books, a housing stipend and tuition and fees.

"This is a way for veterans who return home from war to not have to worry about the financial burden of getting an education when they come back," she said. "It's really the least we could do as a nation to say, 'Thanks.' "

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