A provision of the new Post-9/11 GI Bill is flying under the radar in Alabama.
The educational benefit for veterans already covers tuition up to the highest in-state for undergraduate education in the veteran’s home state.
The new provision, dubbed the Yellow Ribbon program, helps veterans cover costs over that rate, such as graduate work, private schools or out-of-state tuition.
It’s a voluntary program on the part of private colleges and public universities to waive up to 50 percent of the additional expense and the Department of Veterans Affairs will match that amount.
According to the VA, the maximum per credit hour rate in Alabama is $243 and the maximum total for fees per term is $12,612.
Helen Allen, associate director of student financial aid at the University of Alabama, said she wasn’t aware of plans for the university to participate in the Yellow Ribbon program. She said that doesn’t mean the university has ruled out the program entirely.
Officials at the Alabama Commission on Higher Education weren’t aware of the new provision. Spokeswoman Margaret Gunter said the commission probably wouldn’t have much to do with the program since the law leaves the decision to participate to individual institutions.
Auburn Montgomery and the Alabama Community College System could not be reached for comment Friday.
But, the new GI Bill that kicks in this August will affect thousands of Alabama residents, as the bill expands some eligibility.
The bill covers about 1.4 million active duty soldiers and more than 650,000 National Guard and Reserve troops who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Military Officers Association of America. Alabama ranks high in terms of total deployments since Sept. 11, 2001.
The bill is designed to reward those troops. Full benefits are available to those that have served three or more years of active duty, but those with at least 90 days of active service are eligible for a percentage of the benefits.
More than 13,000 members of the Guard have deployed and more than 97 percent of the Air National Guard has been called to active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.
The 908th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve Wing stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base, has about 1,200 members. Roughly half have deployed at least once since Sept. 11, 2001. There also are Reserve Army and Marine units throughout the state.
Veterans who served on active duty since Sept. 11 but have separated from the military also may be eligible for benefits under the new GI Bill — that’s another 35,000 people in the tri-county area, according to Department of Veterans Affairs statistics for 2006.
Allen said that 325 veterans are certified at Alabama this year, meaning they are using some form of veteran benefit. He added that the staffers handling veteran benefits expect that figure to increase this fall.