Sep 8, 2009

Liberty offers veteran-friendly benefits

by Melinda Zosh

This Friday, Sept. 11, 2009, will mark the eighth anniversary of the day terror struck America. Since September 11, a new version of the GI Bill (Ch. 33), which went into effect on Aug. 1, provides an opportunity for servicemen to return to school by providing tuition, fees, housing and book stipends. The funds are based on the number of months the servicemen have been on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.

Liberty University is on board, with approximately 400 students receiving the new GI benefits and a total of 2,500 online and residential students receiving veterans affairs benefits, according to Director of Military Affairs Emily Foutz.

The G.I. bill covers the highest in-state tuition of $326 per credit hour. Since Liberty’s tuition is higher than the listed amount, the school has “entered into a Yellow Ribbon agreement with the VA (Veteran Affairs) that splits the remaining cost of tuition between the school and the VA,” according to the Founder of Students Behind Our Soldiers (SBS) Mandi Forth.

“Liberty University is extremely dedicated to serving the brave men and women who serve our country, to make sure that students who are eligible to receive (the) new benefit, would not have to pay anything out of pocket to go to a private institution like Liberty,” Forth said.

“We strive to be a military-friendly school,” Foutz said. “We do everything we can within our operating budget to reach out to military personnel to make sure they are covered academically and financially. Not all colleges strive to be military-friendly, but we do.”

Director of Commuter Affairs Larry Provost, a veteran in the army, agreed with Foutz that Liberty is in the minority, especially in dealing with the new GI Bill, adding that it is “one of the most important pieces of legislation that’s ever been passed to affect veterans.”

“Liberty University is one of the most veteran-friendly campuses in the world. We have an entire military affairs office… ready and able to assist with GI benefits,” Provost said, adding that many campuses hire only one part-time worker to handle all military affairs.

Liberty established the Office of Military Affairs in 1998 to help current and prospective military students with the academic process. Several months ago, the office hired Forth, a 2009 Liberty alumna, to work as the VA Benefits Representative for the Post Sept. 11, GI Bill (Ch. 33).

Forth handles questions about the new bill from military personnel across the U.S. and overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Forth said that the new bill is “extremely beneficial to those veterans who want to go to school residentially,” but she warned veterans to read the small print first.

“It’s a benefit that, once you switch to using it, you will relinquish rights to an old benefit, so veterans need to be informed before making a decision,” Forth said.

Unlike the former GI Bill, which was called the Montgomery Bill, the money is not allotted as a lump sum, but rather it is based on months served in active duty, according
to Forth.

For example, a veteran who served 36 months or more active duty since 9/11/01 receives 100 percent benefits, a soldier serving 30 months receives 90 percent benefits and a soldier serving 90 days receives 40 percent benefits.

“The bill has provided a means for them to be able to get an education,” Provost said. “Not only is it helping to pay for school, there’s also a housing stipend based on income level of where you live. Veterans I’ve talked to just absolutely love it.”

In Lynchburg, veterans are given approximately $1100 per month. The stipend is only given to students who are enrolled in at least one residential course at Liberty or elsewhere and at full-time status. Veterans also receive up to a $1000 per year book stipend, and the VA will pay $41.76 per credit hour.

If a service member is only eligible for a percentage of the benefits, then he or she will receive the same percentage of the book and housing stipend. The funds come directly from the VA. The tuition and fees are paid directly to the school, and the housing and book stipends are paid directly to the student.

Forth advises students to apply for the 9/11 Bill with the VA as soon as possible because the process can take up to 12 weeks. The VA then issues a certificate of eligibility, which states the months of entitlement, and the percentage of eligibility to the veteran. Then, the veterans give the document to the Office of Military Affairs and the benefits are processed.

Benefits can also be processed for veterans’ children and spouses, according to Foutz. Previously, benefits could only transfer to their dependents, their spouses or to their children if the veterans were disabled or deceased.

“Now that the benefit is expanded, a lot of children can come to school with no out-of-pocket expense,” said Foutz. “Under this new benefit, they are able to allow all children to receive up to 36 months of benefits.”

If veterans choose to take advantage of the program themselves, a minimum of four credits will transfer for their military training and experience as recommended by the American Council and Education (ACE), according to Foutz. If students are interested in seeing how many credits they will receive, they should follow the steps on the Web site, Foutz said.

In addition to credit and financial questions, Forth said soldiers should not hesitate to ask other questions.

“We’ve had a lot of questions and inquiries coming in,” said Forth. “Phone calls and e-mails have doubled from month to month.”

Veteran Jesse Hogan, who served in the National Guard for three-and-a-half years, said that the GI Bill has assisted with his living and housing expenses.

“If it wasn’t for the GI bill, I would have to get a full-time job to support myself,” Hogan said. “The GI¬ bill makes it so that I can concentrate on school and my military career and not some job.”
Liberty University has helped him with this process, according to Hogan, who served in Iraq for six months.

“The military affairs office usually fixes all my problems,” Hogan said. “They also do their best to keep that stuff from happening in the first place but sometimes they can’t prevent it.”

Hogan said the enrollment process can sometimes be more difficult than handling the GI Bill paperwork.

“A lot of office people aren’t on the same page, and soldiers have problems with their accounts and classes every time they
register,” Hogan said.

Despite the enrollment process, Hogan likes that Liberty “works with military personnel.” He makes and sends care packages to deployed soldiers, and he helps raise money for SBS.

“If I can’t be over there fighting, I will do whatever I can here to support my boys overseas,” said Hogan.

According to Forth, some veterans who are now Liberty students are in their early to mid 20s, but there’s one difference between their classmates and themselves — they’ve already been to war and back.

But some Liberty students have not made it back.

“Two of our students have actually been killed in recent years — Jesse Strong, a graduate, and Crystal Stout, an online student,” Foutz said. “For the most part, a lot of them have come out and been able to go on with their lives.”

Students like Hogan respect the soldiers and their sacrifices.

“Those soldiers make everything we have here in America possible,” Hogan said. “They are our guardian angels. They go over there, fight and die without thinking twice so people here in the states don’t have to.”

Contact Melinda Zosh at 

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