John Gebhardt: Making the GI Bill work for veterans


Published: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 11:09 p.m.

Serving your country and the great state of Florida during war can be traumatic at best, deadly at worst. Returning to the loving fold of family and friends can do much to transition the veteran back into a productive civilian life.

Many, about 60 percent, decide to use their earned GI Bill to attain a post-secondary education or a trade skill. Florida's 12 state universities and 28 community colleges each have a different guideline for the veteran to establish residency for in-state tuition.

Each base their guidelines on Florida Department of Education requirements that do not specifically address the status of returning veterans. While a veteran may receive in-state tuition status at one or more of these schools, others will rule them to be out-of-state residents for purposes of tuition (causing three times the charge for tuition, most that the veteran must pay out of pocket).

For example, a veteran who was born in Florida, graduated from high school in Florida and entered the military in Florida can be charged out-of-state tuition following their honorable separation (completion of duty agreement) from the military.

Unjust? Sure is.

The Florida Department Of Education and the governor are remiss to allow each school to use a different standard for veterans to determine in- or out-of-state fees.

So here you are, a combat sergeant returning home to Florida, maybe two tours in combat, maybe three, and a school will rule you to be an out-of-state resident. It's hard to swallow that home soil would treat a favorite son this way and easy to say the heck with it all and go to one of the seven states in the nation that provide in-state tuition automatically to any veteran wanting to attend a post-secondary institution.

There you have it; those states welcome all veterans who have served this greatest of nations, as each state is served equally. Comrades have died serving each state equally.

We call upon the governor to direct the Florida Department of Education to allow any veteran applying for post-secondary education to present exactly one proof of residency. This proof might be their separation document stating Florida as home of record or address after separation, a driver's license, a voter registration card, home ownership or other proof.

We should be honored that a veteran chooses Florida as their home after serving this country. They bring diverse life experience to a campus, enriching the lives of fellow students who have not served. They also bring a federal education package called the GI Bill that can pay over $100,000 while they attain their educational goal.

It makes sense, it is only right, and it must be done.

John Gebhardt is a veterans advocate at Santa Fe College and the University of Florida.

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