Student veterans push for in-state tuition

TAMPA - A group of USF students, who are also military veterans, is working to make it easier for other servicemen and women to pay for an education.

Andrew Napier, 25, joined the Army National Guard right out of high school. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 as a combat medic. He remembers treating a local man with such severe arthritic pain, he had to stop farming and couldn't feed his family.

Napier noticed the man's doctor prescribed him Sudafed, so Napier gave him some pain medicine instead.

"We came back and he was able to shake my hand within a few weeks," Napier recalled. "Again, he was almost at the point of tears, but now not in pain.  From joy."

The experience is one of several that drew Napier toward a career as a doctor. Now applying to medical school at USF, Napier soon learned simply completing an undergrad biology degree would be challenging.

The G.I. Bill only paid for part of his tuition.
 
"Subsequently what happened was I wasn't able to pursue my degree at the speed that I wanted to because I couldn't take a full load of classes, because I couldn't pay for it," Napier said.

Now, Napier belongs to USF's Student Veterans Association. He and others like the group's president, Kiersten Downs, are calling on lawmakers to change legislation so that veterans are considered in-state students and thereby eligible for the tuition reduction.
 
"We're losing out on a pool of students right now that we could attract to this state," Downs said.

Downs points to a long list of other groups considered for in-state tuition, like students from Caribbean or Latin countries studying in Florida.

"If you want to claim to be one of the most veteran-friendly states in the nation, then this is certainly a policy that we want to define us," Downs said.

Florida's congress has taken up the issue in the past, but just like SB 620 in 2008, legislators keep voting it down.

Napier and his cohorts, however, don't plan to give up anytime soon. He wears a memorial bracelet inscribed with the name of one of his friends, killed in action a few years ago.

It's a reminder for him that giving up isn't an option.

"We've made the sacrifice to go through and volunteer for service. Why not? Why hasn't Florida stepped up?" he said.

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