By: James Ferragut, INFORUM

Dave Bellefuille is busy these days.

The veteran services coordinator for 10 northwest Minnesota campuses, including five in Moorhead, is helping students navigate the new Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Though the legislation just took effect Aug. 1, many local students are already taking advantage of it, Bellefuille said, and he doesn’t expect it to slow down soon.

For veterans who served active duty since Sept. 10, 2001, the bill has three main advantages:

* The tuition and fee payment is made directly to the school. Previously, the veteran received monthly payments and was responsible for paying the tuition bill.

* The veteran receives a housing allowance not previously included in the GI Bill. For Fargo, the maximum amount is $999 per month.

* The student receives a book stipend of up to $1,000 per year, also not included in previous benefits.

For Amber Triebold, a North Dakota State University emergency management major, the new benefits mean she can focus on school.

“I can take more credits because I don’t have to work,” she said.

Triebold, 24, of Valley City, N.D., joined the Army National Guard for the education benefits. She deployed to Iraq after graduating from high school, which qualifies her to receive 60 percent of the GI Bill benefits.

Triebold is now a member of the Air National Guard.

Some students have experienced delays with their benefits because the program is so new, but Triebold received her book stipend this fall.

The level of benefits students receive depends on how much time they spent on active duty. Thirty-six months of service qualifies a veteran for the maximum benefits.

Bellefuille, who assists veterans at Minnesota State University Moorhead, the four campuses of Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Concordia College and others, said about a third of the approximately 300 students he saw in August are using the new benefits.

In some cases, students may be better off using state benefits or the former GI Bill, so he counsels them on what is best for their situation.

Chris Ganske, a second-year student at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead, said the main advantage for him is the tuition bill is taken care of up front.

Ganske, 28, a construction management major from West Fargo, deployed with the Army National Guard to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq.

After he graduates from MSCTC, he will have 1½ years of educational benefits left that he could use toward a four-year degree.

Another new advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is that current service members can transfer their educational benefits to a spouse or children, Bellefuille said.

Veterans who want to attend private colleges may receive additional assistance from the Yellow Ribbon Program, which is a partnership between the colleges and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Concordia, Rasmussen College and the Minnesota School of Business, all in Moorhead, participate in the new program.

Nationally, 25 percent to 30 percent more veterans are expected to attend college as a result of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Bellefuille said. He compared the potential impact of the legislation to the educational benefits available after World War II.

“It put many people to work in skilled positions,” Bellefuille said.

With the increase in veterans expected on campuses, colleges are doing more to help them adjust.

NDSU started a veterans reintegration committee two years ago to make it as easy as possible for students, said Bill Burns, director of the counseling center who leads the committee.

This fall, he sent faculty and staff training materials on how to help veterans transition to college.

“Just fitting back into civilian society after being in the military and after being deployed, that’s the hardest part,” Burns said.

Vets receiving educational benefits

NDSU: 330

MSUM: 200


Concordia: 27

Numbers are preliminary because final enrollment counts have not been taken this fall.