Village Voice: From Camp to Campus

The Village Voice recently spoke to IAVA Member Veteran Don Gomez, president of the City College Veterans Association at the City University of New York, for this article about the benefits of the new Post-9/11 GI Bill which will go into effect in August 2009.

From Camp to Campus

by Michael P. Ventura

When Sergeant Don Gomez started attending City College in 2007, after five years in the U.S. Army and two tours in Iraq, he knew it would be a challenge to cover the cost of a college education as well as the high costs of living in New York City. So when he began his degree in International Studies, with a focus on the Middle East, he used the military's existing benefits—roughly $1,400 a month for tuition—and scholarships, and bunked with his parents.

The 27-year-old from Bellerose, Queens, knows he's lucky: When he graduates in May 2010, he'll be debt-free—plus, a $30,000 Truman scholarship will be paying for grad school. "I'm in a fortunate situation, and I think that my experience is exceptional," Gomez says. "Many veterans work full-time, are married with children, and also try to be full-time students."

These issues are what the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act—or the Post-9/11 GI Bill, for short—was designed to address. When it goes into effect this August, the bill will cover tuition and fees up to those charged at the most expensive public school in each state, as well as money for housing, books, and supplies. With five months to go, student veterans are gearing up to take advantage of the new benefits that will provide them with access to an education unseen since their grandfathers returned from World War II.

But Gomez, president of the City College Veterans Association, as well as other local vets, veterans groups, local colleges, and even the State of New York, expect growing pains out of the gate. Many vets are confused about how to apply for the benefits and even how much they may get—the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has yet to finalize the numbers. Some are delaying college applications until after the new benefits kick in; others are considering pausing their studies, or even taking out a loan, to take full advantage of them. 

"I know specific people that are doing it," says Gomez about student vets using a stop-gap measure to preserve their benefits. The military allots 36 months of education benefits, and months you use now cannot be regained under the new plan. "People in my position who got out a few years ago, do they want to stop using the GI Bill and take out a loan? Or do they keep going?"

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