By Andy Potter
You may have heard military advertisements offering college tuition as an inducement for young people to sign up. A Vermont man who fought in Iraq now claims that a military recruiter misled him about those education benefits.
Drew Cameron is 26 years old and finishing his last semester toward an undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont. Some, but not all, of his tuition is covered by the G.I. Bill, augmented by a cash bonus program. That's hardly enough, he says, especially when he believed the recruiter who signed him up for the Army.
"Look at the advertisement that the U.S. Army uses," Cameron told WCAX News. "Get money for college, pay for college, we'll empower you to go to college. The reality is, you get a really small portion."
Cameron does not dispute that he got what the recruiter promised -- just that he didn't read the fine print. The Pentagon acknowledges that the education benefits are an effective recruiting tool and that the enlistee gets what is promised under the terms of the contract. Tom Bush, an acting Deputy Secretary of Defense for Personnel, said, "It is a significant reason why people join the military. It does provide a very good benefit."
Better than any other single college tuition assistance program, the military says. In Drew Cameron's case, he says he gets about $1,500 a month toward tuition and expenses, or over $13,000 a year. At UVM, he pays the in-state student tuition rate of just over $20,000 a year. But the discrepancy is not Cameron's only problem.
Drew Cameron's beef with the Army goes beyond the education benefits he thought he was entitled to and never got. After completing four years in the active Army, plus two more years in the Vermont Army National Guard, he joined Iraq Veterans Against the War, convinced that the entire war on terror was a deception.
"It's sending very young people to do atrocities, things based not on any reality of the security of this country," Cameron said. "If anything, it's destroying the military. It's destroying peoples' lives and families' lives, not to mention all the innocent civilians. Massive amount of destruction."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, also opposes the war but wants more spending on the G.I. Bill. He said, "When you compare the educational benefits that the men and women who serve in Iraq receive, as opposed to World War Two veterans, these guys today are not getting a fair shake. And I think we owe it to them, we owe it to our nation."
Drew Cameron says he wouldn't sign up again -- not even for full education benefits. But if the legislation becomes law, it would give those who have served the opportunity to get a full -- and free -- college education, in return for that service.
Senator Sanders has joined a bipartisan move that would pump a lot more money into the G.I. Bill -- to cover full educational benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Sanders says it would cost two-and-a-half billion dollars a year -- about what the U.S. spends in Iraq every week.
By Andy Potter
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