Michael G. Sheppard

Veteran Groups Divide Over Stricter Transfer Rules For GI Bill

There is currently a rift among two of the largest Veteran’s Advocacy groups in the United States over proposed changes to the GI Bill which would put a cap on the time frame through which the family members of service men and women could take advantage of funds earmarked specifically for GI Bill spending. While there was previously no cap, the new rule would only allow service members who have served less than a total of 16 years to take advantage of the financial assistance. So what exactly is the GI Bill and who is arguing for and against this rule change?

  • What Is The GI Bill?
  • What Do The Two Sides Think About The New Rules?
  • What Portion Of The GI Bill Is Used For Service Family Members?

What Is The GI Bill?

The term GI-Bill actually refers to many different programs designed to help service members and their families continue their education at either a reduced or no cost at all. The specific GI Bill in question here is the Post 9/11 GI Bill. This Bill provides up to 100% of the total cost of education for those who have served more than 90 days of active duty after the horrendous terrorist attack that occurred on September 11th, 2001.

What Do The Two Sides Think About The New Rules?

The two sides arguing for and against the proposed rules change are the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW) and The American Legion. The American Legion argues that this is a benefit earned by all service members regardless of how long they have served. The VFW, on the other hand, states that the GI Bill’s transferable nature was always designed as a type of retention tool instead of a true benefit guaranteed to all service members.

What Portion Of The GI Bill Is Used For Service Family Members?

Currently, the GI Bill funds roughly twelve billion dollars in education expenses each year. Of this twelve billion dollars, roughly $1.8 billion was used to fund the educations of service member’s families. This equates to roughly fifteen percent of this large total. While the future of this proposed change to the rules is uncertain, it is certain that it will have a lasting impact on thousands of families across the United States regardless of the final ruling.

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from Mike Sheppard


Is Personalized Education the Best Model for Learning in the Near Future?

Although education constantly evolves with our culture, primary educational institutions are sometimes slow to update their models by incorporating emerging technologies. There are many forces that explain the plodding pace of educational reform that include budgetary, cultural and logistical forces.

Despite resistance, the overwhelming cultural force that is the technological revolution has started to influence the thinking of many facilitators of early education in the form of a revolutionary movement: personalized learning.

Personalized learning, or a model of education that utilizes computers to facilitate self-directed, individualized learning that is tailored to a student’s abilities, ideal learning method and interests, has gained a great deal of traction.
What possible effects could personalized learning have on students’ education if implemented?

Advocates of personalized education believe that the benefits of this approach are numerous. Students can learn in a way that is best suited to their personal needs, can interact with the material in a way that takes advantage of their comfort with technology and can take ownership over their own education in a way that builds confidence and well-being. Some proponents claim that the fears people have against personalized education are rooted in outdated bourgeois cultural norms that fail to address the needs of modern students.

The advantages of self-directed learning seem obvious, but what are the possible disadvantages?

Critics claim that a personalized model would exacerbate the polarization of a culture that is already fractured. Self-directed learning amounts to learning in isolation and would degrade students’ already suffering from social development. Working to accomplish educational goals in a group is an important part of socialization that would be neglected by this model. While personalized education is supported by many educators, some teachers unions fear that implementing it would lead to replacing educators with computers.

What does the research say?

Where some studies, including the often cited Gates/RAND report, have shown little evidence to suggest a marked improvement in student performance, a more recent study by Education Elements shows significant progress toward ACT goals in districts adopting a personalized education model. More research is needed.

If anything is certain, it’s that our society is becoming increasingly computerized. The only question is, what degree will these new approaches be implemented, and will we find a balance between tested methods and emerging technologies.

from Michael G. Sheppard

Suicide Prevention Remains A Top Priority Of The V.A.

Suicide prevention has become the Department of Veterans Affairs’ top priority. All former service members should have a safe place they can turn to if they are having a mental health crisis. This could mean urgent care at a Vet Center, VA emergency department, or the Veterans Crisis Line. Every suicide is a tragedy and is a public health epidemic in America. The suicide rate among adults has increased by 25% and is up over 30% among veterans. The VA is determined to provide lifesaving support and do everything they can to fix this crisis.

When veterans are put in contact with the right resources, it can help save their lives. Only six in every 20 veterans who commit suicide had received health care from the VA. It is crucial that more work is done to get our veterans the services and care they desperately need. The VA is the biggest provider of medical education in the U.S. They work with healthcare professionals and medical schools to help reduce suicide. By raising awareness of suicide prevention resources and tools, they can identify veterans at risk.

There are several misconceptions about Veterans and PTSD. After a traumatic event, trouble sleeping, unsettling memories, and increased jumpiness are extremely common. Without proper therapy and medication, these reactions won’t go away and worsen. Veterans are at a higher risk of PTSD due to being in combat situations, or military sexual trauma. Effective this year, all VHA medical centers are equipped to provide emergency stabilization care for former service members. This means they can receive mental health care for 90 days that includes residential, outpatient, or inpatient care. If they deem the health condition is related to an injury during service, they will be eligible for ongoing health coverage.

If you or someone you know is a veteran struggling with PTSD or a mental health condition, take action fast. If you are currently getting treatment, the VA has self-help tools to help you manage stress. You can connect with them on social media to stay up-to-date on treatment information or ask questions. The VA has email publications you can subscribe to including the Clinician’s Trauma Update, the PTSD Monthly Update, and the PTSD Research Quarterly which are free to download. Volunteers can join the PTSD Awareness campaign and help organize events that share information about PTSD.

from Mike Sheppard

Progress on the New Career-Education Law

Senate lawmakers are currently working on improvements in the Perkins Career and Technical Education Law, a law that provides for federal spending for technical education in the United States. This re-authorization of the Perkins Law will now give states and local educational facilities more flexibility in determining where their funding should be directed to reach career goals.

Negotiations on this bill stalled for months because of disagreements that revolved primarily on the restrictions to the authority of the Secretary of Education in determining the manner in which states should use federal funds to achieve the goals of their career training. This updated Perkins Law would allow states more autonomy in meeting career-educational goals. The Senate agreement also requires that if states do not achieve their goals, the federal Education secretary could then assert more authority. This conditional empowerment of the states in determining their specific educational objectives differs from the proposal of the House of Representatives.

In contrast to the Senate bill, The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act proposed by the House of Representatives offers a more simplified application process for states and local educational facilities requesting federal funds. It also requires that employers in the states have more input into the goals of career-education programs. Further, the House legislation eliminates the present requirement that states receive approval by the Secretary of Education for program goals. It does, however, set performance benchmarks. One of these is a measurement of postsecondary programs based on the median earnings of graduates.

The proposed measures of both the Senate and the House of Representatives have been praised by the director of federal policy at the National Skills Coalition, Kermit Kaliba, because they are similar to those contained in legislation that passed last year. However, while the Coalition believes that both the Senate and the House bills are well directed, it is disappointed that career education grants are still receiving less funding than historical funding levels in the past for the Carl D.Perkins Career and Education Act. Kaleb observed that priorities are created in part by the spending levels that are set. Advance Career Technical Education (Advance CTE), another organization that strives to connect learning to work, praised the efforts of the Senate to improve the bill. But, the American Association of School Superintendents found it to be “unrealistic and too prescriptive.”

from Michael G. Sheppard

Bonsai Finance’s Scholarship Aids Veterans and Dependents

To lighten the burden of college costs, Bonsai Finance, a veteran-owned finance company, offers monetary scholarships to people presently or formerly in the armed forces, as well as their dependents. The goal of this award is to acknowledge those who have served the country, along with the sacrifices made by the military families by providing them the opportunity to go to college. Applicants who win this scholarship receive $2,500 for educational expenses, an amount that Bonsai Finance hopes may be enough to allow a student the opportunity to attend college.

Those who apply for the Bonsai Finance Veteran’s Scholarship are required to be citizens of the United States and to be high school seniors or graduates. They must be active members or veterans of the U.S. Military or a direct dependent of a veteran or active member of U.S. Military service. They may also already be enrolled at an accredited college, vocational or technical school, but they must not hold a bachelor’s degree prior to their application for the scholarship. There will be no discrimination against applicants for their national origin, race, gender, sexual preference or any other condition.

Along with meeting the requirements stated previously, applicants for the scholarship must submit a short essay written in response to questions posed by Bonsai Finance. This essay is essential because the decision to award the monetary scholarship to a qualified applicant is made entirely on the content of his or her essay and does not require a certain grade point average as do some scholarships. Also in contrast to other such awards, financial status is not a determiner of eligibility since Bonsai Finance wishes to give all veterans and their dependents the opportunity for the scholarship because of their service to the country. The only provision of the acceptance of the award is that the winner of the scholarship must grant Bonsai Finance permission to use the content of the essay in any media of its choosing.

Bonsai Finance is a veteran-owned company that provides its customers resources for building their financial credit. This finance company, significantly named after the Bonsai tree which requires time and patience for its shaping, provides customers the careful planning that results in successful money management. Also, the company’s website provides a Learning Center that addresses commonly-asked questions on financial matters.

from Mike Sheppard

What Teachers Have Accomplished in a Year of Protesting

Teachers across the nation decided to stand up this year for both themselves and their students. While several things were accomplished because of their protests, many teachers still remain frustrated with the lack of changes they are seeing.




Arizona: Teachers in Arizona were requesting a 20% salary increase for next school year, in addition to raises each year after that. Six days of protests led to a law being passed that will raise salaries by 20% over the course of three years.


Colorado: State employees were looking for adjustments to their retirement program, while teachers in the Pueblo City School District protested for five days against unfair wages. While the state employees were not victorious, the local strike in Pueblo yielded good results, with teachers seeing a 2.5% raise.


Kentucky: Teachers were looking for changes to the recently passed pension reform bill, in addition to overrides of Governor Bevin’s vetoes of budget and revenue bills. While no changes were made to the pension reform bill, the governor’s vetoes were successfully reversed.


North Carolina: The North Carolina Association of Educators was requesting an increase in wages. After a day of protests, the legislature passed a bill promising a 6.2% raise by next year.


Oklahoma: The teacher’s union in Oklahoma was seeking a $10,000 raise for teachers and a $5,000 raise for support staff. Nine days of protests led to a $6,100 raise for teachers and a $1,250 raise for support staff.


West Virginia: Teachers protested for nine days over unfair wages and changes to their health insurance plan. The governor finally agreed to a 5% raise for teachers and signed an order to fix their insurance program.




Teachers were also protesting for better school funding. Lawmakers in Kentucky agreed to a funding increase of $4,000 per student. In Arizona, a bill to provide new textbooks and updates to school facilities and technology was passed.


The Future


Disappointment at the lack of changes has led many teachers to pursue roles in public office. Teachers like Travis Brenda from Kentucky are seeking election next year and have vowed that they won’t stop fighting for themselves and their students until real progress is made.


from Michael G. Sheppard

Lincoln County High School Junior Wins Constitution Bee


The state of Tennessee has a new Constitution Bee champion. Cooper Moran is this year’s winner of the Spring 2018 Tennessee Star Constitution Bee, sponsored by the Polk Foundation. As the individual winner, the Lincoln City High School junior received a $3,000 Andrew Woodfin Miller Foundation Scholarship, provided by generous donations to the Polk Foundation. The scholarship was presented to Moran by the master of ceremonies Michael Patrick Leahy. In addition to being CEO of The Tennessee Star, Leahy is also its Editor-in-chief.


Moran also won a trip for two to Washington, D.C. Moran said that his mother will be his guest and that he plans to attend a series of events in the nation’s capital. The trip will be of special interest to Moran, who hopes to study political science at Vanderbilt University with an intent to become a lawyer.


The Constitution Bee was held at the Williamson County Administrative Complex, bringing students together from all over the region to compete. The contestants were able to sit in the same chairs used by the Williamson County Commissioners. The competition got off to a patriotic start as one of the judges, retired Air Force Lt. Colonel David Garcia, led the group in the Pledge of the Allegiance. Twelve seniors, four juniors, and one sophomore participated in the event. The youngest competitor was sophomore William Patterson, representing Columbia Central High School.


The competition featured a unique mix of multiple choice and true or false questions, an opening Preamble Challenge requiring contestants to deliver the beginning of the U.S. Constitution in a dramatic fashion, as well as a climatic essay round Although the competition began with 17 students, only eight made it to the essay round of the event. During the essay round, students were allowed 60 seconds to formulate their response to the question before presenting their answer to the panel of judges.


By the time the last round began, there were only three participants remaining in the tense competition. Aryan Burns, also from Lincoln High School, finished in second place, while Mt. Juliet senior Amanda Nolan finished in third place. Finishing her last year, Nolan plans to attend Vanderbilt University this fall, studying pre-med and political science. Burns, a junior, hopes to attend the University of Tennessee and study biology.



from Mike Sheppard

The VA Mission Act: What It Means For Veterans

In recent news, the VA Mission Act of 2018 has been signed into law. There have been several questions surrounding this law that should be addressed. To understand what the law will do and how it will impact others, it is important to understand what the VA Mission Act is. On June 6th, 2018, President Trump signed the act into law. According to, the new law is “designed to greatly improve veteran access to VA healthcare… The VA Mission Act addresses in-network and non-VA healthcare issues, veterans’ homes, access to walk-in VA care, prescription drug procedures, and much more.”


To know what impact this law has, one must explore the multiple components of the text and each one’s intended purpose. The Act is broken down into five parts:


  • Title I – the Caring For Our Veterans Act of 2018
  • Title II – the VA Asset and Infrastructure (AIR) Review Act
  • Title III – Improvements to Recruitment of Health Care Professionals
  • Title IV – Health Care in Underserved Areas
  • Title V – Other Matters


There are sixty-three sections under this first title and they all focus on the health care that veterans have access to. Originally, veterans would have to wait until a VA health care provider would be available and drive to the location to receive care. This first title aims to remove those limitations by having the VA coordinate the veterans’ care and required to “ensure the scheduling of medical appointments in a timely manner,” “ensure continuity of care and services,” “coordinate coverage for veterans who utilize care outside of a region from where they reside,” and “ensure veterans do not experience a lapse in health care services.”


There are only eleven sections under the second title and their focus is to create and Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission in addition to providing a general plan to accomplish everything that Title I aims to complete. In section 202, the act outlines the President’s responsibilities for appointing and nominating individuals for this commission. Section 205 goes into detail about what the VA must be required to do, such as consult with governors and the heads of local governments “for the purpose of considering the continued availability of a road for public access through, into, or around a VHA facility that is to be modernized or realigned.”


Title III has six sections which mostly focuses on how the VA will recruit more health care professionals. Medical students that agree to work for the VA will receive scholarships and the amount of education debt that will be reduced has increased. Title IV is similar in the fact that there are only three sections and their goal is to provide the medical students with graduate educations and residencies along with addressing the problems with under-served facilities. Lastly, Title V contains eleven sections that are the small details to serve as an end cap for this act. This is where authorization of $5.2 billion will go to the Veterans Choice Fund and extend current eligibility restriction for certain recipients of a VA pension.


from Mike Sheppard

Memorial Day: Why is it Important?

We often forget why Memorial Day is so important. Sure, there are parties to attend and cookouts to be had. The real reason for the day gets left behind so often that we can sometimes find ourselves asking “what exactly is Memorial Day?” In the modern era, Memorial Day is celebrated as the unofficial first day of Summer with Labor Day marking the unofficial end of Summer. The beginning of Memorial Day, however, has a less jovial sentiment surrounding it.


Memorial Day used to be known as “Decoration Day” where the nation would decorate the graves of fallen Union soldiers with flowers. This was done to remember those who gave their lives to defend their country. Decoration Day was inspired by the 500,000 deaths of soldiers in the Civil War. Traditionally, from 1868 to 1970, this day was observed on May 30th. It was then decided that Memorial Day would be observed on the fourth Monday of May.


In 2000, a National Moment of Remembrance act was passed pointing to ask Americans to take a moment in remembrance for those who died for their freedom. This is generally to occur at 3:00 PM local time on Memorial Day each year. Additionally, flags are quickly raised to full staff in the morning and slowly lowered to half-staff until noon. This is done as a sign of respect for fallen soldiers both past and present.


It’s essential that we observe Memorial Day because each year, thousands of American enlist in the military to serve and protect our freedoms. They are willing to risk their lives in order to ensure our continued access to these freedoms. Since the Civil War, nearly 700,000 American soldiers have lost their lives defending our nations and protecting our freedoms.


With Memorial Day approaching, make sure that you enjoy your holiday but do so in remembrance and with respect for those that we have lost. It’s because of those fallen soldiers that we owe our freedom to in order to have barbeques and parties. Take a moment on Memorial Day and remember those who have given their lives and respect those that are currently serving.

from Mike Sheppard

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