New post-Sept. 11 G.I. Bill aims to give soldiers better benefits

When the new GI Bill takes effect in August, Missouri National Guard officials believe that many of the state's Citizen-Soldiers will find the educational benefits a more appealing alternative than other programs, especially as it relates to their children's chances of going to college.

"That's the number one question I'm getting: Can I transfer my unused benefits to my dependants," said Staff Sgt. Mark Johnson, Missouri's GI Bill manager. "More than half of my day is spent answering questions about the new GI Bill and most of those questions are about that."

And the answer, under the new bill, is yes.

The law, which the Veterans Administration expects to cost about $78 billion over 10 years, will primarily provide Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with tuition aid up to the maximum tuition and fees charged at the most expensive public college in the state where the veteran enrolls. In Missouri, Johnson said, they are using tuition rates at the University of Missouri-Columbia as the standard.

A National Guard member has to have served on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

The new law also provides qualifying veterans -- technically any soldier who was mobilized for more than 90 days in a designated hostile area -- with a $1,000 annual stipend for books and supplies and a monthly housing allowance equal to that paid to an E-5 on active duty. A one-time payment of $500 will be paid to certain soldiers relocating from highly rural areas.

The new Post-9/11 GI Bill will go into effect on Aug. 1, Johnson said, but noted that it is important to realize that the new GI Bill does not replace the Montgomery GI Bill, but is an alternative to it.

"They'll have to choose which one they want and that depends on what's best for the soldier," Johnson said. "But under the new bill, tuition is paid directly to the schools and the stipend and housing allowance is paid directly to the student."

Under all other GI Bill programs, soldiers receive a monthly payment at a rate set by Congress that does not vary based on expenses, Johnson said.

And any unused benefits can be transferred to a soldier's dependants. "No other GI Bill does that," Johnson said.

Staff Sgt. Jeremy McGuire, a recruiting and retention NCO at the 1140th Engineer Battalion in Cape Girardeau, said that the new law will provide relief to families in many ways, especially in these times of economic uncertainty.

"These individuals need education," he said. "And a lot of families can't afford it. They can't afford student loans or any of it. This should help with that."

For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please call 1-800-GoGuard or visit www.moguard.com.

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