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Serving country helps local man build college fund
A soldier trains on the Bayonet Assault Course during boot-camp at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Staff Photo by Vincent Z. Whaley)

By Vincent Z. Whaley
Johnson City Press Staff Writer

(Published Sunday, March 5, 2000)

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Matthew Woodward didn't waste any time going to parties or hanging out with friends after he graduated early from Science Hill High School. He wanted to immediately begin his college education in computer science.

Like most college students, however, Woodward faced one dilemma — lack of funds.

So when the Army offered him thousands of dollars toward his education in return for a hitch in the service, Woodward reported to the Army's training center at Fort Jackson, S.C.

"I chose my military occupation specialty to be in electronics repair, and that helped me qualify for $50,000 for college tuition," the private first class said.

"I plan to attend East Tennessee State University to study computer science on the GI Bill after I'm honorably discharged."

While Woodward doesn't anticipate any financial woes during his college education, ETSU Veterans Affairs Coordinator Keith Johnson feels the current GI Bill is insufficient for today's educational fees.

"The GI Bill has been around for more than 50 years. It was first introduced in the mid-1940s, and its original intent was to divert some of the veterans coming back off the battlefields of Europe during World War II instead of flooding the job market," Johnson said. "The Vietnam-era GI Bill required too much of a contribution on the part of a person in the military. Congress recognized it was not successful, and in 1985 they came up with the current GI Bill. A couple of years later, because of the hard work, dedication and tenaciousness of Rep. Sonny Montgomery of Mississippi, the GI Bill was officially designated as the Montgomery GI Bill.

"The problem with the current GI Bill is that it has not kept pace with the cost of an education on a national basis. There is a cost-of-living increase built into the GI Bill, but the cost of education has just far outpaced that cost of living. So each year has gone on and on, the GI Bill has gotten weaker and weaker."

Since not much has been done to correct the Montgomery GI Bill's weaknesses, Johnson said it is being supplemented with special funds from the Department of Defense.

"The DOD has taken this issue by the horns, and they have recognized that the GI Bill is the reason a lot of people come into the service," he said. "So they started supplementing the congressionally-established GI Bill with what are called College Funds. College Funds also are known as kickers, which is a way to add some punch to the GI Bill.

"College Funds are a specific amount of money that is awarded to a service member or potential service member. It is a contract amount. Over the years, because of recruiting demands and challenges, they have had to up that amount to where it is at $50,000 now. The military occupational specialties that qualify for higher College Funds are infantry, artillery, military intelligence and other specialized fields. College Funds are designed to attract those kinds of intelligent, especially talented individuals into those fields."

It sometimes takes months before veterans receive funds after their GI Bill application is processed, but student veterans also are entitled to receive Federal Student Financial Aid to help pay for tuition fees, books and other school supplies.

"Institutions — and ETSU is one of them — are not very understanding in granting deferments," Johnson said. "They want their money by the first of class and for obvious reasons, but they should give student veterans some slack.

"That is the reason for legislation I have suggested to Sen. (Rusty) Crowe. One-fifth of that legislation calls for a mandatory deferement of payment of tuition and fees. In other words, if a student veteran walks into my office and wants to use his GI Bill, I help him start getting his GI Bill, and I would advise him to request a mandatory deferment of payment of tuition and fees each semester until he gets his money. Because of the rigidness on institutions to demand the money up-front, that puts stress on a student, but this legislation would help cut them some slack."

For more information, call ETSU Veterans Affairs at 423-439-6819.

Related VZW stories: Focus is on better educational benefits, Today's Army puts LDRSHIP into service

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47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division
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