Among my many life experiences, I cannot count a moment of military service. Neither in peace nor in war did I serve.
Over the years, however, I've come to know a number of military families, including some who lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan. As a result, I've come to the conclusion that there's not enough we can do to recognize the sacrifices of these folks, from the parents to the spouses to the service members themselves.
Quite frankly, it sometimes astounds me what they have given up.
That's why I think the Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the best things to come out of Washington in years. It's about time we came close to matching the original GI Bill that sent millions of World War II veterans to college and paved their way to the middle class.
The new GI Bill took effect Aug. 1, meaning many of its first beneficiaries will begin their academic careers in the weeks ahead. Applications for the program are being taken now by the Department of Veterans Affairs. You can also find several publications and detailed explanations for many different scenarios.
The basic benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill:
Tuition and fees up to a maximum of the most expensive in-state tuition at a public college or university in the given state where an eligible recipient decides to attend school.
A monthly housing allowance.
And an annual stipend of up to $1,000 for books and supplies.
These are the basic benefits for veterans who completed their military service. The benefits are somewhat different for active duty personnel, including no cap on tuition payments but an exclusion from the monthly housing allowance.
The basic eligibility requirement for the program begins with at least 90 days of active duty service beginning on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The maximum benefit kicks in at 36 months of active duty.
The 90 days of service earns 40 percent of the maximum education benefit, and the percentage increases as the service period increases until the 100 percent benefit level is reached at 36 months.
In addition, individuals may be eligible after 30 days of active-duty service if they were discharged honorably as a result of a service-connected disability. In that case, they are eligible for the maximum benefit right away.
The new GI Bill provides up to 36 months worth of full-time education benefits, allowing a veteran to earn a four-year undergraduate degree based on a nine-month academic year. But the benefits are not limited to undergraduate degrees. They also may be applied to graduate training.
Though the basic education benefits are capped at in-state tuition rates for public colleges and universities, military veterans are not limited to state higher-education institutions. They can also use them at private colleges and universities.
And more than 1,100 private schools have agreed to participate in the Department of Veterans Affairs' Yellow Ribbon Program. Under the program, the VA will provide additional tuition benefits by agreeing to match contributions made by participating schools.