Two years ago, Stephen G. Abel, Director of the Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services for Rutgers, received a midday phone call from Kiev, Ukraine.
It was Thomas Krause, a military corporal who was serving as an embassy guard, calling in the middle of the night from the eastern European country. He wanted to study at Rutgers at the end of his service.
Now 24, Krause, of Oakland, works at the office as a supervisor for the work study program there, and is a pre-business student at the university.
Students like Krause receive funding from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to pay for their education, the amount of which depends on how much time they spent in the service.
And on Wednesday, the veterans office and the NJ Bankers Association announced that college and vocational school scholarships are available through the New Jersey Bankers Education Foundation to assist the dependents of veterans who were killed in action or left permanently disabled in post 9/11 combat.
Disabled veterans returning from combat are also eligible for the scholarship money, which can be used at any college or vocational school in New Jersey.
According to the New Jersey Bankers Association, "dependent" includes a service member's spouse, children, step-children, grandchildren and step-grandchildren. In order to qualify, the service member or their dependent must have a connection to New Jersey, either in their permanent address or military based or the last permanent home of the dependent.
Abel, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, said that any servicemen or women wishing to attend college when they return from duty is entitled to funding through GI Bill benefits.
Abel said that 36 months of active service entitles a returning veteran to full education benefits from the VA, but for those who do not qualify for the full allotment, there are gaps in the funds afforded to them, and additional help is often needed in paying for the costs associated with school.
Scott Hakim, 23, of River Vale, served five years in the military from 2007-2011, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. After being seriously wounded in combat and receiving the Purple Heart, he now attends Rutgers and works alongside Krause as a work study program supervisor. He currently studies political science and psychology at Rutgers and intends to go to law school.
Funds were given to him through the Foundation to assist in purchasing textbooks for this semester, the cost of which totaled over $900. The cost of textbooks were not were not covered in their entirety by VA assistance, he said, and sometimes the money comes late.
"The VA (money) covers some of it, but...it's not enough to cover it," Hakim said. "And I...didn't get it until the first of October," he said. "Trying to maintain a good GPA and do well in school, it's hard without textbooks."
Krause also received scholarship money from the foundation to put toward textbooks.
"It is greatly appreciated and it has made Scott and I have the opportunity to keep our GPA's as high as they are," he said.
The biggest challenge that the foundation is facing is finding recipients for the scholarships, said Robert E. Stillwell, chairman of the foundation.
They cannot reach out directly to dependents and veterans because of privacy issues, and often times, those who are in need hesitate to reach out for help, he said.
One of those students was Kara Connelly, 27, who was widowed at 23 when her husband, Specialist Brian Michael Connelly was killed in Iraq in 2009.
With scholarship assistance from the NJ Banker's Association, Connelly was able to attend Monmouth University, where she completed her undergraduate studies in psychology and pursue a master's degree in school counseling.
"I hope that we can really get the message out if there is anyone else out there who needs help, because this is a great thing to be a part of," she said. "Sometimes it can be hard to accept help, but this is something that has just been such a positive difference in my life and I hope that we can help someone else do the same."
For more information on scholarships for dependents of killed or disabled servicemen and women through the NJ Bankers Association, click here.