Veterans coordinator says many vets missing out on benefits

March 16 2007

Many citizen soldiers serving in guard and reserve units, as well as recently discharged veterans, are missing out on valuable educational benefits, either because they don’t know they are available or don’t realize they have a limited time to take advantage of them, according to Michael Caress, veterans benefits coordinator at Indiana State University.

“As few as 10 percent of veterans who are entitled to education benefits are actually using them,” said Caress, who bases his estimate on personal visits to guard and reserve units throughout Indiana. “It just kills me that so many people have these benefits available but don’t use them.”

Caress retired from the Indiana Air National Guard in 2006, after 38 years as a flight chief with the 181st Fighter Wing based at Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field.

During the Vietnam era, Caress financed his own bachelor’s degree at Indiana State and wants to do everything he can to make sure today’s veterans take advantage of the educational benefits now available.

Today, guardsmen and reservists are eligible for 100 percent state-funded tuition, along with monthly Montgomery GI Bill payments of up to $618 while in school, and supplemental grants of up to $20,000 for a six-year enlistment in the guard.

And many of the more than 550,000 Selected Reserve forces called to active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan can take advantage of GI Bill benefits, although not state-funded tuition assistance, even after they leave their units, but only for a limited time.

“Guard people had been told that if they left the guard that they no longer had any benefits,” Caress said. “But if a guard member has been on active duty for 90 days or more, they have Montgomery GI Bill benefits for the time that they were on active duty, plus four months - even if they leave the guard.

“The clock starts ticking the day they leave their guard unit. If they are discharged - whether going to school or not - they start losing their benefits immediately.”

That means recently discharged veterans who want to take advantage of their educational benefits should plan now to take classes this summer or fall, Caress said.

Many veterans of the “regular” armed forces have funds withheld from their pay to finance a future college education and about 70 percent of such veterans utilize their education benefits. But those benefits also expire after 10 years, meaning thousands of veterans have made an investment of their own funds that they never take advantage of, he said.

Dual admission agreements Indiana State has with Ivy Tech Community College and Vincennes University make it possible for veterans to complete an associate’s degree and move directly to ISU; and 21st century technology makes it easier than ever for working guardsmen, reservists and veterans to take advantage of their educational benefits, he said.

“The university has done everything it can to make classes available through distance learning Web-based classes,” Caress said. “A lot of people are really hurting, trying to find money to go to school. I want to make sure our veterans know that these benefits are available.”

Admissions counselors at Indiana State can answer questions about veterans benefits and may be reached by calling 1-800-468-6478. Veterans also can log on to www.indstate.edu/veterans to learn what benefits are available and what steps they need to take in order utilize their benefits within the required time frame.

Photo: Michael Caress

Media contact and writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

Many citizen soldiers serving in guard and reserve units, as well as recently discharged veterans, are missing out on valuable educational benefits, either because they don't know they are availale or don't realie they have a limited time to take advantage of them, according to Michael Caress, Indiana State University's veterans benefits coordinator.

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