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GOOD NEWS!: Honoring vets’ sacrifices with HS diploma

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

The deadline to apply for RCS’s Operation Recognition program is coming up Oct. 24. Courtesy of Pexels

RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — Veterans who served in the armed forces made sacrifices for their nation, and now, the community will show its appreciation by giving some of them what they don’t yet have — a high school diploma.

Veterans who dropped out of school but served honorably and have met a couple of other basic requirements will be awarded a diploma from Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School in November.

The deadline to apply is Oct. 24.

The initiative is called Operation Recognition and was made possible under Section 305 of New York State Education Law. Locally, the program is a joint effort between the VFW 9594 Auxiliary, Unitas Memorial Veterans Association and the RCS school district.

“As an auxiliary, we decided we would collaborate with RCS schools to offer this to veterans who exited school without getting their high school diploma,” said auxiliary member Lisa Foronda Schmitt, who is coordinating the program.

Under state law, veterans must meet three requirements. The veteran must be a New York state resident, they must have been discharged under honorable conditions and engaged in active-duty service for at least one day.

“They haven’t made it difficult, which is good,” Foronda Schmitt said.

State residents who are eligible to receive their diploma are encouraged to apply by Oct. 24, Foronda Schmitt said. A ceremony will be held Nov. 5, at 10 a.m. in the RCS High School auditorium, RCS District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey said in a letter to families in the spring.

“Operation Recognition, created by Section 305 of New York Education Law, recognizes the devotion and sacrifice of all veterans who left school early by presenting them with a high school diploma,” Bailey said. “The RCS Central School District and our partnering groups want to take this time to honor, appreciate and celebrate our RCS veterans by presenting them or their surviving families with a diploma from the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District.”

Diplomas can be awarded posthumously as well.

“My grandfather, Louis Alfred Palmer, is actually eligible even though he is deceased,” Foronda Schmitt said. “He exited school at a very young middle school age, as many of our veterans did back in the ‘40s and ‘50s to support their families, and then he joined the Marine Corps. He will actually be recognized by the New York State Education Department and will get his high school diploma posthumously.”

Palmer’s diploma will be awarded to his family on his behalf during the ceremony, she added.

“He left school in order to help on his family farm and then he went into the Marine Corps, where he served honorably,” Foronda Schmitt said. “Many of our Vietnam veterans who were drafted when the government executed the draft had to leave school without getting their high school diplomas, and then when they came back from the war, they had families to support and they were more worried about securing employment rather than going back and getting their credentials.”

Eligible veterans are not required to have left school in order to join the military immediately, and they do not have to meet the requirements for a GED diploma.

“They have to provide proof that they served honorably so their DD214s is usually what is submitted,” she said.

According to the state, qualifying veterans or their family members must present evidence of the veteran’s military service, including dates of service and discharge status. Acceptable documents include a DD Form 214, a WD AGO Form 53-55, an Honorable Discharge Certificate, or a Special Discharge form from the Coast Guard or Merchant Marines, according to the state website.

Veterans are not required to have dropped out of school in order to join the military to be eligible for a diploma.

A ceremony will be held Nov. 5 to award diplomas at the RCS High School auditorium. There will be musical performances, elected officials, student groups and others on hand to perform the ceremony, Foronda Schmitt said.

“We are looking to honor our veterans, but also make some connections with our community and our school,” she said.

For veterans, getting a high school diploma will be a way for the community to honor and thank them for their service.

“Our veterans paid the ultimate sacrifice by serving our country and they did this very selflessly,” Foronda Schmitt said. “They left school not because they wanted to leave school, but because they needed to leave school. They had to support their families, and often the military was just one way that they could send money home to their families.”

If you are an eligible veteran or know one, contact operationrecognitionrcsvfw9594@gmail.com or call 518-469-3562 for more information.

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