Benefit Extends GI Bill Coverage

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.

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