By MARA LEE
Scripps Howard News Service
May 15, 2006
"I thought I had covered everything," she said.
While her son, Kenneth Rich, 22, has been in Iraq, serving with the 163d in Evansville, she found out she hadn't.
Spc. Rich, like all soldiers in the National Guard or Reserves, can get money for college only while he's actively drilling. He chose to start drilling during his senior year in high school, and his six-year commitment ends in August 2007. Because he was deployed to Iraq and couldn't go to school this year, he won't have time to finish on the Guard's tab.
"I was under the impression that they would pay for four years of my son's college, period," Linton said.
Had Rich joined the Army instead of the National Guard, the GI Bill would have paid for him to go to school any time in the 10 years after he left the service. But because the Pentagon uses the education benefit as a retention tool in the Guard, if you don't use it during your enlistment, it's gone.
Linton isn't alone in missing this detail in the contract. Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., said many colleagues don't know about this rule. Snyder, who serves on the Armed Services subcommittee for personnel, is pushing to change the law.
Snyder served in the Marines in Vietnam and was there for about 18 months. He ended up paying for his last two years of college and three years of medical school with the GI Bill. A staff member in his office went to Iraq in the Guard for about a year and left the service not long after.
"Well, how can that be? Spend about the same amount of time in a war zone. I get 45 months - he gets nothing? That's terribly, terribly unfair."
Along with Rich, Evansville, Ind., sent more than 150 National Guardsmen to Iraq, and they don't know exactly when they'll return, but expect it will be sometime between October and December.
In an e-mail from Iraq this week, Rich wrote, "It is really messed up that I have to re-up to get to use the rest of my benefits. We served our country, so give us what you promised."
Rich will be able to graduate from college without student loans even if he decides not to re-up, because he qualifies for an Indiana scholars' program that would cover his college tuition.
But his mother isn't mollified. She said some might ask, "Well, he's covered, why is she raising hell?"
Linton realizes the benefits aren't going to be equal, because National Guard members are only part-time soldiers unless they're deployed. Usually, Guard members get $300 a month for college, where active-duty veterans get $1,000 a month. Once they are activated, Guard members do get more money, but it still can only be used during their service.
"I'm not asking them to get everything the regular Army gets. All I'm asking is match day to day their deployment. I think I've got a pretty good argument."
The Pentagon spent nearly $200 million in fiscal year 2005 on education benefits for Guard members. Snyder knows it would cost more to make this change, but said, "It's a tremendous investment in America. I think more and more members of the Congress are becoming aware of the unfairness," he said.
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