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To Learn, Perchance To Dream - Ay, There’s The Rub: For In That Dream... Who Pays?

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While I don't think the "Bard of Avon" would mind my use of his words, I hope you readers will forgive me, too. But something is close to happening that could help fulfill the dreams of many veterans. Needing only the signature of our governor, something I am told will be forthcoming, the opportunity to get one's undergrad and post-grad education tuition-free is more than a little exciting. Yes, there are many questions that need answers. And yes, when those answers will be forthcoming is not yet known. Still, for this to have gotten this far is no small feat. As soon as I know more, you'll find it here. Until then, enjoy this press-release. (

Note: neither the HESC nor Division's websites have yet been updated; they reflect the old $1,000 limit

)

NYS Division Of Veterans' Affairs - Newly Enacted Expansion of the Veterans' Tuition Award


Historical Context

: Under section 669-a of the Education Law, "combat veterans" of the Vietnam, Persian Gulf and Afghanistan conflicts are eligible to receive a tuition award from New York State. The current maximum award is $1000.00 per semester. Rising educational costs, coupled with a GI Bill that has not kept pace, have left New York's returning veterans struggling to obtain the education they need to transition into civilian life and become productive members of our communities. The newly enacted Veterans' Tuition Award Program acknowledges the sacrifices our state's soldiers and sailors have made by deploying in harms way in service to our nation.

Financial Benefit

: The value of the award will be equal to the amount of undergraduate tuition charged by SUNY to New York State residents or actual tuition, whichever is less. According to the SUNY Website tuition at a state operated college in 2007-2008 was $4,350.00. Tuition awards would be available for study at both private and public institutions.

Basis of Eligibility

: Veterans who served in Indochina in the Vietnam War, or who served in the hostilities in the Persian Gulf or Afghanistan, and were discharged under honorable conditions are eligible under the proposed program. Additionally, individuals who served in the armed forces of the United States in hostilities that occurred after February 28,1961, as evidenced by their receipt of an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Navy Expeditionary, Medal, or Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, and were discharged under honorable conditions.

Scope of Benefit

: The Veterans' Tuition Award Program, administered by Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC), will provide a tuition award to eligible veterans enrolled in approved undergraduate or graduate programs at degree granting institutions and approved vocational training programs. Tuition awards would be available for full or part time study.

Eligible Veterans

: could receive awards for up to sixteen semesters of part time or eight semesters of full time study in approved undergraduate programs. (Veterans enrolled in approved remedial programs or programs that normally require five years of undergraduate study may be entitled to more); could receive awards for up to six semesters of full time graduate study or twelve semesters of part time graduate study at approved programs; could receive awards for up to four semesters of full time vocational training in approved programs, or eight semesters of part time vocational training.

A Veteran's Tuition Award will not be reduced or offset by any benefit available to an otherwise eligible veteran under the federal Montgomery G.I. Bill or the federal Pell Grant Program.

This Week's Almost Not Commented on Story Part 1 - Shh! Like Heck We Will

VA DELIBERATELY CONCEALED SUICIDE NUMBERS AND RISK, INTERNAL E-MAILS SHOW -- E-mails from Dr. Ira Katz, VA's mental health chief, show 18 vets a day commit suicide and four to five of them are in VA care. The Department of Veterans Affairs came under fire again Monday, this time in California federal court where its facing a national lawsuit by veterans rights groups accusing the agency of not doing enough to stem a looming mental health crisis among veterans. As part of the lawsuit, internal e-mails raise questions as to whether top officials deliberately deceived the American public about the number of veterans attempting and committing suicide. The charges were backed by internal emails written by Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's head of Mental Health. In the past, Katz has repeatedly insisted while the risk of suicide among veterans is serious, it's not outside the norm. "There is no epidemic in suicide in VA," Katz told Keteyian in November. But in his e-mail to his top media advisor, written two months ago, Katz appears to be saying something very different, stating: "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our metical facilities." Katz's email was written shortly after the VA provided CBS News data showing there were only 790 attempted suicides in all 2007 - a fraction of Katz's estimate. "This 12,000 attempted suicides per year shows clearly, without a doubt, that there is an epidemic of suicide among veterans," said Paul Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense. And it appears that Katz went out of his way to conceal these numbers. First, he titled his e-mail: "Not for the CBS News Interview Request." He opened it with "Shh!" - as in keep it quiet - before ending with "Is this something we should (carefully) address ... before someone stumbles on it?"

This Week's Almost Not Commented on Story Part 2 - Yea, Right

SEN. MURRAY CALLS FOR VA OFFICIAL'S RESIGNATION AFTER SUICIDE COVER-UP -- Murray on Dr. Ira Katz: "Dr. Katz's irresponsible actions have been a disservice to our veterans and it is time for him to go." In the wake of a CBS News report that revealed the Department of Veterans Affairs deliberately withheld critical information about the true suicide risk among veterans, Sen. Patty Murray, Wash., today called for the resignation of Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's top official for mental health. Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, says "Dr. Katz's irresponsible actions have been a disservice to our veterans and it is time for him to go." She continues, "The number one priority of the VA should be caring for our veterans, not covering up the truth." Yesterday, Katz told CBS News that the reason the numbers mentioned in his e-mails had not been made public was because the "results were available for only one or two months, and there were and still are questions about how consistent or reliable the findings would be."

This Week's Almost Not Commented on Story Part 3 - I Agree

SEN. AKAKA JOINS CALL TO OUST VA OFFICIAL -- U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, called for the resignation of Dr. Ira Katz, Mental Health Officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs, following reports that Dr. Katz was involved in efforts to cover up the number of veterans attempting suicide. Akaka sent his request by letter to Dr. Michael Kussman, VA's Under Secretary for Health. "Dr. Katz's personal conduct and professional judgment have been called into question. I believe veterans, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, would be best served by his immediate resignation," said Akaka.

This Week's Almost Not Commented on Story Part 4 - Again, Yea, Right

AT TRIAL, VA OFFICIAL DENIES SUICIDE NUMBERS COVER UP -- Also, Dr. Michael Kussman makes strange statement reinforcing stigma of mental illness. Despite E-mails, VA Boss Denies Cover Up. The head of health care at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) denied any wrong doing by the agency on Thursday as more internal emails surfaced showing VA officials discussed withholding suicide information from the public. While on the stand in California federal court, where the VA is facing a lawsuit filed by veteran advocates who are demanding better health care, Dr. Michael Kussman, the VA's Under Secretary for Health, said, "I disagree with the premise that there was some effort to cover up something." Undersecretary of Health Reinforces Stigma of Mental Illness. You've got to scratch your head when one of the government's chief advocates for health care in the Veterans Administration just reinforces the old stigmas associated with mental health concerns. Testifying before a federal judge in San Francisco, Michael Kussman said: "The number of patients who have adjustment reactions to the experience that they have in Afghanistan or Iraq is very important, but we don't believe that's mental illness," Kussman said. "It would be unfair and inappropriate to stigmatize people with a mental health diagnosis when they are having what most people believe are normal reactions to abnormal situations." Well, golly gee Dr. Kussman, are you saying that traumatic reaction to wartime situations isn't a mental illness? Because posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) surely has existed in one form or another since all wars have ever been fought. Is PTSD simply an "adjustment reaction" (whatever that is)? Or are you saying that an adjustment disorder isn't a real, diagnosable mental disorder? Because, if you are, you'd be wrong on that account as well. Having a depressive, traumatic or anxious reaction to combat is actually not a normal reaction (even if some of us believe it should be). And sadly, war and combat fighting is not an "abnormal situation" for a soldier - it is exactly what is expected of them (and what they signed up for). In a perfect world, we wouldn't need soldiers. But in a perfect world, we would definitely take care of those who fought for us. That especially means not minimizing the effects of wartime, nor reinforcing the stigma of mental illness - a condition that returns with so many of our military men and women who have seen combat.

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt