Post-9/11 GI Bill Gains Ground Among Veterans, Mason Students

Posted: September 15, 2010 at 9:57 am

By Dave Andrews

From left,TRG Motorsports CEO Kevin Buckler; Mason student and Navy veteran Paul Hurley; Veterans Affairs Acting Under Secretary for Benefits Michael Walcoff; and NASCAR driver Landon Cassill gather outside VA headquarters on Sept. 9 to unveil a Post-9/11 GI Bill-sponsored racecar designed to educate veterans about the historic legislation and its associated benefits. Photo courtesy of Department of Veterans Affairs

When President Barack Obama came to Mason’s Fairfax Campus in August 2009, he outlined the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

The law grants every U.S. veteran who served in active duty since Sept. 10, 2001, an opportunity to receive an in-state, undergraduate education at a public college or university. It covers school expenses, including monthly housing costs and an allowance for books. It also pays fees associated with tutorial services and other educational programs.

So far, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has issued nearly $4.8 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit payments, opening the doors of higher education to an estimated 340,000 individuals.

Given its location near Washington, D.C., Mason has seen some of the largest veteran enrollment numbers in the country. That number has grown considerably since the bill took effect.

According to Jim Miller, veterans transition coordinator in the Office of Admissions, Mason immediately saw a 10 percent increase in veteran enrollment last spring and a 20 percent bump in enrollment for fall 2010.

One of Mason’s enrolled veterans was recently featured as part of a promotional campaign for the bill on the Veterans Affairs website.

Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Paul Hurley, a Mason geography major, was able to pursue a college degree while also swimming for the Patriot Masters Swim Team.

Hurley suffered an injury while serving as a gunner’s mate in the U.S. Navy. The injury resulted in the loss of his right leg, which derailed his plans of becoming a Navy Seal and forced Hurley to look at alternate career paths.

“The Post-9/11 GI Bill has helped me get back into school and find new goals to pursue,” Hurley says. “I get to work with (geography) professionals who know their field inside and out on a day-to-day basis.”

As soon as he came back from the war, Hurley was worried about the cost of getting back into school. But as a participant of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, many of his concerns were wiped away because of the bill’s effortless and straightforward structure.

“I get to pick and choose what classes I want to take that will help me be better at my job,” Hurley says. “The funds go straight to the school. I have plenty of money for books, parking and a basic housing allowance.”

In addition to allowing him to resume his studies, the bill gives Hurley the opportunity to pursue his other interests, especially swimming. “The bill has eliminated a lot of the stress for me and helped me feel normal again,” Hurley says.

To further promote the bill, officials recently gathered outside the VA headquarters to unveil a Post-9/11 GI Bill-sponsored racecar designed to educate veterans about the legislation and its benefits.

The car raced at the Richmond International Speedway last weekend during a NASCAR doubleheader titled the “Post-9/11 GI Bill NASCAR Weekend at Richmond.”

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