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Post 9/11 GI Bill pays back the people who protect us

Passed overwhelmingly by Congress last year, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is the most extensive educational assistance program authorized for veterans since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944.

Over the next decade, Uncle Sam plans to spend $78 billion to provide veterans free in-state undergraduate education and allowances for books and housing. The program began Aug. 1.

The new program is reserved for veterans who served 36 months or more on active duty since 9/11 or at least 30 continuous days and were discharged because of a service-related injury.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that it has received more than 277,000 applications for new GI Bill benefits, and has processed more than 205,000. The overwhelming demand has created a backlog, Keith Wilson, director of the VA's Education Service division, told The Associated Press.

"We're continuing to work hard and we're not going to stop until this process is smooth for everybody," he said.

Most universities are working with students by granting deferrals and, in some cases, issuing vouchers to cover the cost of books.

Thirty-one colleges, universities and schools in Oregon, including Southern Oregon University in Ashland, have signed Yellow Ribbon Program agreements with the VA to improve financial aid for veterans participating in the new GI Bill.

The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs also is stepping in to help the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans back into the world of academia, said department spokesman Tom Mann.

"We have a military mindset when we get out — there is an adjustment period," he said, adding that adjustment may be greater for those who were in combat.

To ease the transition, the department has posted five veterans service officers around the state to work with returning veterans. At SOU, former Jackson County Veterans Officer Marty Kimmel has assumed that role, Mann said.

He also encouraged veterans to join veterans groups to ease the transition.

"The college environment is a different world," Mann said. "It helps if they have that camaraderie."

For more information on the new GI Bill, check out www.gibill.va.gov or call 1-888-442-4551.

A list of Oregon schools participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program can be found at: www.gibill.va.gov/GI_Bill_Info/CH33/YRP/states/or.htm.