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Boston Globe - Tainted Smallpox Vaccine

www.Boston.com, The Associated Press
Veteran wants more ex-military people in college

HANOVER, N.H. --Ex-Marine Brendan Hart is on a new mission -- to get more veterans to college, especially those have been injured.

The Dartmouth College student is one of three ex-Marines on campus. He's working with a program of the American Council on Education that reaches out to recent veterans to try to get them into college.

"Our country has an untapped resource in the service members who are transferring out" of the military, said Hart, who served in the Marines from November 2003 to November 2006.

World War II veterans were called the Greatest Generation because "when they came back they were educated," Hart said. "Now these guys transferring out have to fight tooth and nail to get into schools they may not want to go to."

With hundreds of thousands of troops circulating through Iraq and Afghanistan, "we have the same opportunity now" as the country did in the 1940s, Hart said. Not getting more veterans into school, he said, is doing the country a disservice.

Only about 10 percent of veterans go back to school, Hart said. As of last month, the American Council on Education had helped nearly 200 military personnel seriously injured in Iraq or Afghanistan and their families get into institutions of higher education.

The ACE program got off the ground with help from Dartmouth President James Wright, who began visiting hospitalized veterans in 2005. Wright, an ex-Marine himself, has raised $350,000 for the program, which is running at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, Brooke Army Hospital in Texas and Balboa Naval Hospital in California.

Although Hart, 25, wasn't wounded in combat, health problems he contracted in the military have stayed with him. A tainted smallpox vaccine he and roughly 50 other Marines were given in Virginia induced anaphylactic shock.

"The vaccine systematically destroyed my systems," he said, affecting his respiratory, immune and skeletal function. "It was kind of an all-encompassing problem," one that still has him making regular visits to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

While he was being treated at Walter Reed, Hart enrolled at the University of Maryland. He started a program there to bring in more veterans.

He met Wright during his hospital stay.

Hart and Wright said the country needs to do more to get veterans to continue their education.

"The current GI Bill is not as generous as the World War II GI Bill was," Wright said. Servicemen have to enroll early in their enlistment and have to sink $100 a month into a fund, not an easy decision on a military salary, he said.

Most of those who enlist don't plan to go to college, so they don't sign up for GI Bill benefits, Wright said. Even those who apply get only $1,000 a month, far less than it costs to attend even most state universities.

"I think we need to find better ways to make this investment," Wright said. The country could significantly bolster education benefits for veterans with an annual infusion of the amount of money currently spent in a week on the war in Iraq, he said.

Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., have sponsored legislation that would furnish today's veterans with GI Bill benefits similar to those the World War II generation enjoyed -- full tuition and fees and a monthly stipend.

There are natural barriers between service members and higher education, Hart said. Many have outdated SAT scores, or have never taken the SAT. "A high school transcript is not exactly a fair representation of someone who has served four years or eight years in the military, but that's the standard that higher education uses," he said.

Some schools such as Dartmouth pride themselves on using a "holistic" evaluation of applicants to make up its incoming classes. Under such a system, a veteran might receive a small boost. "I would hope so," Wright said, adding that a recent veteran can bring a unique perspective to campus.

Hart said he feels an obligation to veterans, and hopes he can be an example.

"I felt that if I came to an Ivy League school, performed well academically, participated in student affairs, that I would be able to set a trend that others would be able to follow," he said.