New GI Bill expected to ease transition from Combat to classroom
The college classes Konrad Schlarbaum took during five years of military service, which included 15 months in Iraq overseeing communications in Baghdad, netted him merely seven transferable credit hours.
“The recruiter told me I could go to school in the Army, but I found out I couldn’t do that,” Schlarbaum said. “I did as much as I could when I could, but you don’t have time. You have to take your career over school.”
Now 23 years old, Schlarbaum is in the middle of his freshman year at Mesa State College as a business major with an emphasis in travel and tourism. Education benefits from the Montgomery GI Bill cover the bulk of Schlarbuam’s tuition expenses, but he joined the Army
Reserves to help transition into civilian life, and his full course load fits between shifts at his full-time job so he can pay his other bills.
Schlarbaum said finding a balance between work and school while trying to immerse himself in the college experience that he has waited five years for is distracting from his education.
He is one of about 100 student veterans enrolled at Mesa State in line for expanded GI Bill benefits taking effect this August that probably will send a new wave of Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans to college as well.
“The downfall is that I’m a nontraditional freshman, and I’m having a hard time finding friends who understand what I’ve gone through,” Schlarbaum said of his military service.
“With the new benefits, I wouldn’t have to do all this. I could just focus on my education,” he said.
A bill passed by federal lawmakers last year is the biggest expansion of the GI bill benefits package since the first bill was signed into law in 1944.
The new bill will cover up to 100 percent of a student veteran’s in-state tuition at a public institution, provided that person logged at least three years of service post-9/11. The previous bill paid a monthly rate, which was set at $1,321.
The new package also includes a monthly stipend of $1,000 to cover living expenses and does away with the $1,200 enrollment fee that military personnel must pay over 12 months to qualify for the education benefits.
Mesa State spokeswoman Dana Nunn said the changes should help streamline payment of tuition bills because the money will be sent directly to colleges in a lump sum rather than to the student in monthly installments.
“There should be less issues with late payments,” she said.
A group of collegiate Colorado administrators informally agreed to meet in June to review the new paperwork and processing associated with the new bill, provided the Department of Veteran Affairs releases the information by then, Nunn said.
“They really take care of those in the military,” Schlarbaum said of Mesa State’s military-assistance personnel. “There are a lot of hoops to go through.”
For veterans capitalizing on their education benefits and active military members working toward the end of their service, the new bill could not have come at a better time.
Education benefits are disbursed for 36 months only, but those veterans using the current GI bill, such as Schlarbaum, can transfer to the new benefits once they take effect.
“We’re all just hoping they get everything wrapped up by next year,” Schlarbaum said. “I’m using (up) time with every month, and I don’t think I can handle another break in my education.”