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'Welcome' Waiver helps Combat Veterans

Over 1 million troops have served in Operation Enduring Freedom since 2001, and upon their arrival home these soldiers are expecting reasonable compensation in return for honorably serving their country.

This past June, the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees approved the "Welcome Home Waiver Program" in hopes of aiding the education of Massachusetts' veterans who have served in combat since Sept. 11, 2001.

Veterans who are accepted into the university become eligible for an annual mandatory fee waiver of up to $2,000 for a maximum of eight semesters.

Additionally, the United States government provides compensation in the form of the GI Bill. The original GI Bill was first drafted in 1944 by the American Legion to honor those who fought in World War II.

"The GI Bill enabled me to attend college at the Illinois Institute of Technology for free, which would have been tough to pay for on my own." said Staff Sergeant Leon Poteshman, who served overseas during World War II.

Recently, modifications have been made to the GI Bill in an attempt to improve its educational benefits. The new GI Bill increases payment rates, extends the expiration date and provides other additional benefits.

Several veterans who attend UMass do so with the aid of the GI Bill.

"After my second tour overseas, I was ready to go to college," said UMass senior and Staff Sergeant Solomon Black "Attending college would allow me to be a more productive member of society."

Black, who is currently benefiting from the GI Bill, is receiving $1,250 a month and will continue to as long as he is enrolled as a full-time student, which require a minimum of 12 credits per semester.

It is estimated that since 2001, some 26,000 Massachusetts residents have been in active duty and are potential candidates to qualify for benefits similar to Black's.

Aside from all the beneficial modifications of the new GI Bill there are still some returning veterans who are weary of its flaws.

"The MGIB is a fantastic help, and now with the new 21st Century GI Bill signed into law these benefits will only get better. But as I said, the initial sticker shock of college, even a state school, was not something I was ready for," said UMass junior and Lance Corporal Jacob Petrie.

College may still be difficult to afford because the GI bill payment rates are intended to cover undergraduate tuition rates, which means that veterans who plan to attend graduate school will need to pay the difference of the costs, something some veterans cannot afford. Additionally housing stipends are not available for students taking non-traditional classes. The new GI bill has payment rates that are based on a soldier's length of post-9/11 service. An active-duty veteran who served five years in the military, only 14 months of which occurring after 9/11, will only get 80 percent of the new payment rate.

"The education benefits and the chance to attend college while I serve was a big attraction," said Mathew Turner, currently a Cavalry Scout. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 inspired Turner to stand up and defend his country.

Turner was promised a $6,000 enlisting bonus, free tuition to state colleges and universities and the 1606 Reserve GI Bill.html. Turner has since received all of these benefits.

"Though I have been very fortunate in receiving the educational benefits that were provided to me through my service in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, there have been friends of mine from other branches of the service that have not been as lucky," said Turner.

This article was originally published on The Daily Collegian.

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