MADISON—The University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs are emphasizing action over words this year as they pay tribute to the thousands of Wisconsin servicemembers who have given their lives in defense of our nation.
The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and the UW System jointly saluted the leadership of Gov. Jim Doyle and the Wisconsin State Legislature, led by Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker John Gard, for supporting 2005 Senate Bill 613, which honors veterans and surviving dependents in Wisconsin. The legislation will expand the “Wisconsin G.I. Bill” program to provide full, free tuition at Wisconsin’s public colleges and universities for qualifying veterans, beginning in the fall semester of 2007.
“ When the federal G.I. Bill was proposed more than 60 years ago, the University of Wisconsin was a leader among its peers in understanding that the legislation meant opportunities for both veterans and the state,” said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly. “I’m pleased that we are in the position today to continue Wisconsin’s commitment to providing opportunities for a higher education to veterans, their families, and students from all walks of life.”
The original federal G.I. Bill, passed in 1944, opened the doors to a college education for a whole generation of workers, and helped make it possible for their children to grow up in a middle-class family.
“ I can’t think of a bigger way to honor our fallen veterans than replicating perhaps the greatest legislation in this country’s history at the state level,” said Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary John A. Scocos. “The original G.I. Bill positively transformed the country, and the Wisconsin G.I. Bill expansion will develop the educational investment and economic development of this state in much the same way. As Memorial Day approaches, this is a tribute with actions far more tangible than just words of appreciation.”
The Wisconsin G.I. Bill program may be used at all state-supported institutions of the UW System and the Wisconsin Technical College System. The bill will expand benefits from the current 50 percent remission to a full 100 percent remission, effective in the 2007 fall semester.
In Spring 2006, more than 1,100 individuals were able to take advantage of the current 50 percent remission for qualifying veterans, which has been in place since the program was enacted in July 2005, and will continue until the expansion becomes effective next year.
To qualify for the program, a veteran must have been a Wisconsin resident at the time of entry into active military duty, must be a Wisconsin resident for the purposes of receiving state veterans benefits at the time of applying for the tuition benefit, must have been discharged under honorable conditions, and must meet qualifying military service requirements.
Dependents of qualifying veterans who died in the line of duty, or who have been rendered significantly disabled by their military service, are currently already eligible for a full waiver of tuition and fees under the Wisconsin G.I. Bill. For eligibility under the disability provision, the veteran must have a current service-connected disability rating of at least 30 percent.
“ The Wisconsin G.I. Bill is especially relevant today because it honors those who have defended our nation in recent years,” said Reilly, referring to more than 50 servicemembers from Wisconsin who have died as a result of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The latest legislation makes it even easier for servicemembers and their families to take advantage of this benefit.”
The legislation expands eligibility for dependents of qualifying veterans, and simplifies the current program by immediately removing a requirement that veterans must demonstrate residency at the time they are awarded a disability rating. Gov. Jim Doyle is expected to soon sign the legislation into law.
“ Wisconsin’s veterans will substantially benefit from this legislation, made possible by the unified efforts of the state Legislature, and its leadership in passing these measures,” Scocos said. “I’m thrilled that President Reilly and the University of Wisconsin System worked with us to make this happen.”