On its face, the ceremony Tuesday in Las Vegas City Hall was to congratulate local recipients of a scholarship program for veterans of the armed services. But organizers used it to call for more funding for G.I. Bill educational programs, which used to go a lot further toward paying the cost of a college education.
"While the cost of education has increased, the benefits available to veterans have decreased," said Matthew Boulay, director of the newly established Fund for Veterans' Education and a Marine reservist who served in Iraq.
"My buddies who are now back here trying to go to school after a tour of duty receive $440 a month. That may buy one or two textbooks, but it doesn't pay for school."
Three students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas were among the 96 people receiving scholarships from the fund this year. They are Cedric Phillips, a business finance major who served a year in Iraq with a National Guard unit; Jeremiah Benardis, an architecture student who spent six months in Afghanistan and is now part of the Nevada Army National Guard; and Safira Allen, whose Army unit was reactivated a month ago and who is training for her second tour in Iraq.
The Fund for Veterans' Education was founded by Jerome Kohlbert, a World War II veteran and successful financier. Scholarships are based on need and this year range between $500 and $14,500.
The maximum benefit an active-duty veteran receives is $1,100 a month, and the most a reservist gets is $440 a month.
In Nevada, many veterans are eligible for free tuition at public schools. But they still must cover fees, books and living expenses, and veterans benefits count against other federal financial aid.
"The old saying was that if you got into Harvard, the G.I. Bill would pay for Harvard. And indeed it did," Boulay said. "Unfortunately, today's veterans don't have that same opportunity."
U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., attended Tuesday's event and said pending legislation in Congress would update the G.I. Bill and address many funding issues.
"The original G.I. Bill, which helped millions of Americans attain a college education, is now inadequate for the 21st century," she said.
"When we send young men and women to war, the cost of doing war should be taking care of our veterans when they return home to us."
The legislation would, among other things, open more educational benefits to reservists and allow service members who previously declined benefits to reverse that decision.
Expanding the benefits would cost an estimated $2.5 billion.
"It would be costly," Berkley said. "But we're spending $4 billion a month in Iraq. The least we could do is spend a few million more when they get back."
Contact reporter Alan Choate at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 229-6435.