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Va. veteran researching impact of Post-9/11 GI Bill

U.S. AIR FORCE

By RUSTY DENNEN | THE FREE LANCE–STAR | Published: June 1, 2013

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Frank Bergmeister used the GI Bill to obtain two master’s degrees.

Now, the 59-year-old retired Marine, who lives in Stafford County, wants to make sure other veterans and their dependents know how to use the updated law to further their education. He is researching a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill for his doctoral dissertation at George Mason University.

The change, enacted in 2010, allows service member’s unused education benefits to be transferred to spouses or dependent children.

For example: Each member of the military for the past few years could transfer free tuition to attend a school such as Georgetown University or the University of Virginia, plus a $2,193 monthly tax-free housing allowance and an annual $1,000 tax free, to a qualifying family member.

The GI Bill helped Bergmeister pay for a master’s in financial services from The American College, and in logistics systems management from the University of Southern California.

A third master’s—from Georgetown University, which he paid for himself—was in history. And as a student of history, he said in a recent interview, “A lot of people didn’t know about the original GI Bill because they left the service and were anxious to get home” and on with their lives.

The original GI Bill—enacted in 1944 as the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act—provided tuition, subsistence allowance, books and supplies, equipment and other benefits to those who served in the military.

“People of color weren’t aware of the benefits they had from the second world war,” he added, until those were publicized by veterans’ organizations.

Bergmeister is currently working as a management and program analyst at the FBI Academy at Quantico, and is a doctoral candidate in higher education at George Mason.

“I was casting about for a dissertation topic and this was just perfect,” he said.

It would allow him to work on a research project linked to his military service, and to George Mason University.

President Obama announced the introduction of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in a speech at the university’s Fairfax County campus in 2009. Bergmeister wasn’t in the audience, but after reading about the president’s remarks, he thought it would be a good candidate for a dissertation topic.

“I wanted to do something that wouldn’t be on the shelf, but would be practical in terms of helping other people,” he said. “I see my research as helping people understand the GI Bill, and making people who will use it more knowledgeable and informed about the process.”

He says there’s a big incentive for service members to fully understand the benefits they have coming to them.

The university’s doctoral committee gave him the green light to proceed, and he has begun his research. He’s focusing on Marines for this project; Bergmeister served in that branch of the service for 21 years.

Bergmeister has interviewed a few subjects for his research, but he’s hoping to line up at least 15 with connections to the Marine Corps in the Fredericksburg area who have, or are in the process of, transferring education benefits.

“No one has ever examined what happens,” he said. He wants to know, among other things: “How does it change lives. What does the family think? Does the spouse get involved? How does it change savings plans? Were there problems, obstacles, and who helped them overcome those obstacles?”

He added, “I’m interested in their personal stories, and this is a chance for me to do some grounded research.”

He gives each participant an online survey, followed by an interview session.

“I’ll be looking for themes, ideas, and be able” at the end of the process “to offer suggestions about how to do this better.”

With the handful of interviews he’s done to date, “It’s very interesting,” he said, with respect to subjects’ education, financial planning goals for children, issues like that.

The point, beyond his connection to the military and GI Bill, Bergmeister said: “I want to discover something that I can share.”

rdennen@freelancestar.com

If you’re a Marine on active duty, retired, or in the Marine Reserve and have transferred education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Frank Bergmeister wants to talk to you for his doctoral research project. Contact him by email at: fbergmei@masonlive.gmu.edu.