TAMPA — Much has changed since World War II and D-Day combat veteran Sam Gibbons studied law at the University of Florida courtesy of the original GI Bill.
Thanks to repeated updates, the most recent coming after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the latest GI Bill is both more comprehensive and more complicated.
But one thing hasn't changed, Gibbons told young veterans Monday at the University of South Florida.
It's still a great deal.
"Good luck to you," the retired longtime congressman from Tampa told about two dozen USF students. "May you get as much out of the GI Bill as I did, and may you get even more."
To make that happen, the VA has launched a first-of-its-kind program at USF.
VetSuccess on Campus puts a VA counselor on USF's campus to help ex-military students with everything from tuition aid to housing assistance to getting treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
On Monday, agency officials met with USF students who have served in the military to hear how it's going so far.
Generally, students agreed with Gibbons — one said she felt like she won the lottery — but had questions about the benefits available to them through the latest GI Bill as opposed to previous versions.
Several asked about the possibility of having out-of-state tuition covered.
The latest GI Bill pays tuition and fees for veterans who served on or after Sept. 11, 2001, but it doesn't pay more than the top in-state tuition charged by a public college or university.
The problem, a couple of students said, is that Florida law requires them to live in the state for a full year to qualify for in-state tuition.
William Boland, 27, started school in New Jersey, then joined the Army and served in Iraq as a medic. He came to Florida last November, so he's facing considerably higher out-of-state tuition to study nursing at USF.
That means his GI Bill benefits, plus a partial tuition waiver from USF and a match from the VA, will cover only about half this year's $16,000 cost. The benefits are great, he said, but the out-of-state tuition is vexing.
"We fought for all 50 states," he said. "Not just one."
A VA official said that's a state matter, but the agency has the Yellow Ribbon Program, which lets universities to enter a pact with the VA for the school and agency to jointly pay more than the top in-state tuition rate. USF is the only public university in Florida in the program.
That helped Boland, but he still has to pay more than if he got in-state tuition.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill also provides a monthly housing allowance and an annual stipend of up to $1,000 for books and supplies. And service members can transfer unused education benefits to spouses and children.