New GI bill helps soldiers returning from post-9/11 wars

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Boonville High School/Boonville, Mo.
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COLUMBIA — More military veterans can now afford college, thanks to a new GI Bill created following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The bill, approved in Congress in 2009, helps military veterans go to college because many return from battle injured or disabled and sometimes cannot afford to pay for a college education.

The measure replaces the Montgomery GI Bill, which was created after World War II.The Montgomery GI Bill invested a set amount in veterans’ education each month, but recipients had to pay into the fund, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Keith Widaman, who attends MU, took advantage of the Montgomery GI Bill and said it was very helpful.

When he was 16, Widaman dropped out of high school but managed to find a job working construction. He was laid off a year later and joined the Marines.

Widaman, who served four separate tours of duty, said without the money provided by the Montgomery GI Bill, it would have been difficult to get an education.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, however, provides financial support for housing to individuals with at least 90 days of total service after 9/11, or individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days. It also pays tuition based on the highest in-state tuition charged by a college or university, the veterans affairs website stated.

In December, Congress approved revisions to the bill, so it now allows active members of the National Guard and selected reserves to apply for college assistance.

Recipients also are allowed to transfer unused monetary benefits, such as tuition and housing stipends, to their dependents.

Widaman said he encouraged other military veterans who want to attend college to apply for the post-9/11 bill and other financial assistance designed to help soldiers.

“To be able to step out of the military, come back and have my education paid for is kind of a gesture of ‘welcome back,’” Widaman said. “I strongly encourage fellow Marines to get their

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education when they return.”

Military veterans can also receive help through the Missouri Returning Heroes Education Act. Under that act, public colleges and universities cannot charge military veterans more than $50 per credit hour.

“The first thing I did when I joined up was get my GED through the Marines, but without the GI bill I would not have been able to enter college after the military and support myself at the same time,” Widaman said.

Fellow Marine Sgt. Jevin Anderson agreed with Widaman.

“Personally, I think it is a great bill, and I think there is a lot of veterans in the same boat, so with this bill they are able to go to college with everything paid for and get the education they want, ” Anderson said.

After returning from Iraq several years ago, Widaman enrolled in classes at MU. He also joined the Mizzou Student Veterans Association, an organization that helps veterans make the transition from the military back to civilian life.

“When I joined the MSVA, the program was still in its infancy,” said Widaman, who is now vice president of the MU chapter. “The program has grown across the board since 9/11.”

Widaman said the MSVA allows veterans to find a group of people who have shared similar experiences and find their place on campus.

“You’re usually older when you come back in, and it is more difficult to find people to relate to,” he said.

Widaman is majoring in international studies and wants to work in security after graduation.