Weather Forecast


Franken talks education with veterans

Paul Bernardy, right, exchanges a few words with Sen. Al Franken. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)1 / 2
Sen. Al Franken talks with student veterans at Inver Hills Community College. In the background is Hastings resident Paul Bernardy, right. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)2 / 2

Hastings resident Paul Bernardy knows the importance of education.

Bernardy is a retired Navy/Naval Reservist and is in his fifth semester at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights. He's finishing up his Associate of Arts degree there and preparing to transfer into the landscape architecture program at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls.

His 30 years in the service left him disabled, so he can't do physical labor. And since he didn't get a college degree before he joined the military, his employment options are limited.

"If I don't do well, I can't just go get a job," he said. "So education is paramount for me."

His daughter helped him get started on his college education. He knew he would need to take some general classes on his way to his bachelor's degree, so started working with his Veteran Affairs office to coordinate his military benefits with his education. He decided to attend Inver Hills because it was close, he said - much closer than Normandale, where his VA first suggested he go.

Inver Hills has already helped him tremendously, he said. When he first got there, he didn't know where to go or what he needed to do. The college's veteran services coordinators guided him through.

"They took me under their wing," he said.

He can't express how appreciative he is for the help they've given. He has written papers on them, though, he said.

While Bernardy is glad to be getting a college education, recent political issues have left him worried about the future. There are a lot of political issues that coincide with education - specifically the GI Bill, which helps him cover the cost of his schooling - because of the federal "fiscal cliff." With the possibility of federal budget cuts, he's worried that funding for the GI Bill might be affected.

The GI Bill was one of the issues Bernardy and a handful of his fellow student veterans at Inver Hills discussed with Sen. Al Franken (DFL, Minn.) Jan. 15. Another major issue brought up was getting military experience, training and skills to translate onto college transcripts.

Several student veterans said they've faced that problem. It's the biggest issue veterans face when trying to get into a college today, said Tim Wynes, president of the college.

Franken told students he doesn't understand how a veteran could drive military vehicles through bomb-ridden areas overseas, but be considered unqualified to drive a commercial truck on U.S. roads.

Franken met with the veterans in the college's veteran lounge after making brief visits to the college EMT and IT departments. Bernardy said he was expecting the visit to be more of a question and answer session instead of the casual chat it ended up as. Still, he appreciated seeing Franken.

"It was a pleasure to have him here," he said. "To come here is special, especially to the lounge, where it's strictly veterans."

Franken was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008. He currently sits on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee; the Judiciary Committee; the Energy and Natural Resources Committee; and the Committee on Indian Affairs.