New UMB Veterans Scholarship Cuts Down on Tuition Costs; For Some

Felicia Whatley

This summer, the University of Massachusetts Administration and Finance Committee voted to award new funding to UMass war veterans; As of the Fall 2008 semester, UMass Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans will receive a ‘Welcome Home’ Fee Waiver approved by the Board of Trustees.

Only those full-time, degree seeking UMass students who served in ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ and ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ in Iraq or Afghanistan-and who received $1,000 from the Massachusetts Welcome Home Bill-will now be eligible for an additional $2,000 per year for eight semesters.

In total, eligible war veterans could receive up to $8,000 toward tuition and student fees; a reality that has some UMB student veterans crying foul.

“For them [the university administration] to only cover Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is unfair,” said Anthropology senior Gregory Errico, who served in the Army during a period of ‘no conflict’ for two years in 1988.

When enlisting in the service, Errico said that enlistees are often unaware about where they will be sent, if they are sent at all.

“Why should they be penalized if they were not sent to combat,” he asked.

Although the waiver will benefit some student veterans on campus, UMB’s Veterans Affairs Director Gus St. Silva echoed the concern of many veterans on campus that many of them might not be eligible for the funding, including student veterans enrolled in continuing education and on-line courses.

Carol DeSouza, Assistant to the Vice Chancellor of Administration & Finance at UMB, said she couldn’t agree more.

“The general public does not understand. They think every vet on campus is getting the scholarship,” DeSouza said. “[But in reality], a lot of veterans can’t come off a deployment and go back to school full time.”

To receive the Welcome Home Fee Waiver, students must provide official documentation from the Office of the State Treasurer to show they have received the bonus authorized to receive the scholarship, and be full-time undergraduate or graduate students with good standing.

For students that meet those standards and qualify for the new waiver, $1,000 is deducted from their tuition bills starting in the Fall 2008 semester. Those students whose tuition has already been paid will be reimbursed.

“Anytime we can give additional benefits to students it is a good thing. We [veterans] can’t wait for the new GI Bill. It will bring students closer to paying for the tuition bill,” St. Silva said.

According to DeSouza, the intent of the fee waiver is to assist veterans with tuition costs before the new GI Bill takes over in August of next year.

“The BOT bill is funding from the President’s office for curriculum. We’re talking about what we can do to welcome home veterans returning to UMass after war duty. We want to make sure we are ready,” said DeSouza.

The new Montgomery GI Bill-to be instated in August 2009-is promised to bring long awaited scholastic funding to many of the 400 plus veterans on campus. At the time of implementation, it will supercede and void UMB’s new Welcome Home Scholarship.

And even though St. Silva said it, too, will be of benefit to some students, other needy student vets won’t be included in the plan.

“The funding for veterans is going to get better, but unfortunately, it excludes our part-time students,” St. Silva said, adding that internal decisions may be made to change that exclusion.

The G.I. Bill also bars students who enlisted for military service in other states. The program piggybacks on the Massachusetts Welcome Home Bill and is designed only for combat veterans who can attribute their service to Massachusetts, even if they are MA residents and attend university in the state.

“I don’t know which veterans here [at UMB] this G.I. Bill will apply to, [as] I am in the Air Force Reserves and did not get the [benefits] of the Welcome Home Bill,” said Dominique LaDawn Powell, a Political Science senior and UMB Veterans Center Coordinator. “I pay out of pocket for classes and books.”

DeSouza said administrators are planning on an influx of combat veterans coming back from overseas, and they are looking to implement many new vocational programs to assist them.

“We are planning a faculty training in November, and the tone will certainly be more toward the ‘common sense’ advice, striking the right tone as a veteran-friendly campus, which I truly believe that UMB has been in the past and will continue to be for our returning service men and women,” said DeSouza.