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G.I. Bill is 70 years old

Seventy years ago on this day, a piece of legislation was signed into law that still changes the lives of military veterans today.

The GI Bill was created for soldiers coming home from WWII as a way to help repay them for the service they gave their country and to stimulate economic growth.

The benefit would pay for part, if not all, of those soldiers’ college educations and provide for them an avenue to rebuild their lives post-war.

For so many, college would never have been an affordable option without it.

Over the years, the GI Bill has had its details changed several times, but its mission remains on track and effective.

Minnesota National Guardsman SSgt. Ryan Seeger of Callaway is proof of that.

The weekend warrior and full time police officer for the White Earth Police Department got much of his two-year law enforcement schooling paid for by the GI Bill. Between that and other military education benefits, Seeger studied and trained his way through both years of college without a dime of debt.

“It’s a cool system because every month I just had to go online the GI bill website, log in and hit a button to verify enrollment,” said Seeger. “And then — bam — about a week later you get the money in your account and you’re able to use it for books or tuition.”

From serving his country as a soldier to serving his community as a police officer, Seeger is only one of hundreds of veterans and active duty and reserve members in the lakes area who receive these benefits.

Eric Abell of Perham not only got part of his education paid for by the GI Bill, but also became the point man for Veteran’s Affairs in the region for everything education benefits.

“I go around to M State in Detroit Lakes, Wadena, Fergus Falls, the Central Lakes schools of Staples and Brainerd and then over the summer I am also covering Alexandria Tech and the University of Minnesota Morris,” said Abell, who is kept busy with hundreds of service members and their educational goals.

Abell says how much payment each person gets depends on their type of service (active duty or reserve) and how many months of active duty deployment they have under their belts.

There are five different chapters of the GI bill with different levels of benefits.

“The low end of it is $362 a month all the way up to getting 100 percent of the tuition and fees paid for (with a cap of $19,000 per year), plus $1,000 per year for text books and around $1,000 per month for housing allowance,” said Abell, who says in many cases the money just goes straight to the educational institution for payment.

When these service members signed up for the military is also a determining factor in how much they get. If it was post September 11, 2001, that GI bill is more.

“Plus that one can also be transferred over to dependents,” said Abell. “So if you have 36 months in and you have three kids, you can split it up to 12 months each,” said Abell, who took advantage of that with the last of his unused GI benefits.

“When I retired from the Air Force two years ago, I switched what I had left to my son who was at NDSU, so that paid for his senior year.”

Military members have anywhere between 10 to 15 years after leaving the service (depending on which GI bill they qualify for) to use the benefits.

“For some, it’s very possible that they can use it to get their entire four-year degrees,” said Abell, “or at least close to it.”

Today, roughly 650,000 military members and veterans receive GI Bill benefits, but there are many more out there that still could.

For more information on the GI bill, call Eric Abell at 218-299-6881.

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