LeRoy Collins Commentary 233

Commentary #233
1 November 2008

GI Bill article

The message here may be routine for the colleges involved, because it is a volume issue for them, but the experience will be life-altering for EACH of the Veterans (and their families) involved. I had a poignant chat with a wife pushing her semi-comatose husband in a wheelchair today with one hand, and dealing with a squirming infant with the other....

At the Veteran Celebration in Clearwater this afternoon, we met some of those Veterans who may never regain enough of their faculties to successfully negotiate the challenges of a college education,... no matter who pays for it,...or how much money it costs. It has probably already cost them all they have, other than their fragile life itself.

TBI is not a pretty sight. The cost of Freedom is high, indeed.

/s/ LC

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Combat to College
By Lizette Alvarez

KEVIN BLANCHARD'S freshman year at George Washington University was unlike anybody else's on campus.

Crowded classrooms routinely sent him into a panic. Cubicles triggered tunnel vision. He felt alienated from the 18-year-olds around him and their antics. His leg throbbed as he wandered the campus, trying to remember where to go. His concentration whipsawed and the words he read in textbooks slipped easily from his memory, the result of a mild traumatic brain injury.

A charismatic Marine Corps veteran, Mr. Blanchard, 25, could trace his difficulties to Iraq and the summer of 2005, when a Humvee he was riding in detonated a bomb buried under the sand. The blast claimed half his left leg and mangled his right leg. In short order, he endured numerous surgeries, months in a wheelchair, a titanium prosthesis and intermittent swirls of depression and pessimism. Until, as he tells it, he woke up one morning and decided to count his blessings.

College was the first step in his plan to reshape his life. After four years in the Marines, one combat tour in Iraq and a life-changing injury, how tough could it be?

"I thought, I'm so motivated, so intelligent I am taking on the school," says Mr. Blanchard, who now leads efforts at George Washington and nationally to bridge the gulf between combat and campus. "It didn't happen that way at all. I was so lost."

Few students make their way to campus directly from an outpatient bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as Mr. Blanchard did. But with the passage this summer of a new G.I. Bill that offers a greatly improved package of education benefits, there will be more. When the bill goes into effect, in August 2009, a boom in post-9/11 veterans is expected at colleges and universities across the nation. And unlike the aftermath of the Vietnam War, when few colleges and universities welcomed military veterans, a growing number are taking steps to ease the difficult transition.

Still in its early stages at many institutions, the effort is led in large part by a generation of student veterans who came to view their own struggles to adapt to academic life as dispiriting and unnecessary........etc.

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/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.


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