Friday, March 27, 2009

Michigan State launches scholarship program for disabled vets

From Indian Country Today:

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Disabled veterans who are residents of Michigan will have a new opportunity to get a college education beginning in the fall of 2009.

Michigan State University is getting ready to launch its new Disabled Veterans Assistance Program, which will cover all educational expenses for disabled veterans seeking their first undergraduate degree.

Under the program, the university will guarantee tuition, fees, room and board, books and incidental expenses are paid in full for eligible disabled vets without requiring that they take out student loans.

“The new GI bill led us to think about how we could help in this difficult economy. This is something we can do,” said Val Meyers, associate director in the university’s office of financial aid.

She explained that students in the program would apply for financial aid and look for the usual federal, state and university assistance. Students would use their grant money, Veterans Affairs educational benefits and Michigan Rehabilitation Services benefits (if eligible) to cover expenses.

Usually, the balance of a student’s costs would be covered by loans the student and/or their family would take out, but through this new program, the university will fill in any gaps in funding with additional grant money.

Veterans Affairs counts almost three million veterans who are currently receiving benefits. About 755,000 Americans are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; of that group, more than 180,000 are collecting disabled benefits.

From those who fought in the Revolutionary War to those who served in the War of 1812 and the Civil War to the 12,000 who served in World War I, Native Americans have fought in the U.S. military in numbers disproportionate to their percentage in the U.S. population. During World War II, 44,000 Native Americans – out of a total population of 350,000 – served between 1941 and 1945, and 40,000 more left their reservations to work in the war industry.

With the passage of the Snyder Act in 1924, Native Americans became citizens and subject to the military draft, but in Vietnam, 90 percent of the 42,000 Native Americans who served were volunteers. Today, out of a total of 1.39 million military personnel on active duty, 23,502, or about 1.7 percent, are American Indian/Alaska Native, according to the Pentagon. American Indians and Alaska Natives made up 1.5 percent of the nation’s population in 2007, according to the Census Bureau.

Meyers said she estimates there are currently 19 students who identify themselves as disabled veterans on campus. The university’s Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities offers a wide array of services to accommodate students, faculty and staff whose needs fall into seven broad categories: Blindness and visual impairment, brain injury, chronic health disabilities, learning and cognitive disabilities, deaf/hard of hearing, mobility disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities.

Meyers said attending MSU costs about $23,500 a year. The Disabled Veterans Assistance Program is funded for $150,000 for the first year. She said the funding is sufficient to help several students because the program will only fill in the gaps once other grants are in place. She was clear that even though the program is currently funded for just one year, the university has committed to seeing students enrolled in the program through to their first undergraduate degrees.

To be eligible for the program, a veteran must be able to document his or her disabled status. A requirement that the student work 10 to 12 hours a week applies only if doing so is not burdensome. Both new and returning undergraduate veterans at MSU may apply.

For other veterans, disabled or not, the Post-9/11 GI Bill offers a similar education benefit. Eligible veterans may receive tuition and fees not to exceed the maximum in-state tuition and fees at a public institution of higher learning, a monthly housing allowance, an annual stipend of up to $1,000 for books and supplies, and, in some cases, a one-time rural benefit payment.

Applications for this program are expected to be on the Veterans Affairs Web site early this summer, according to an agency spokesperson. Other GI educational benefits are also available for qualifying individuals.