Aiming to do his part for homeland security after the 9/11 terror attacks, Garen Marshall enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he turned 18. For five years, from 2003 to 2008, he served as an explosive ordnance technician, disarming explosives both in the United States and abroad during two deployments to the Middle East.

All the while, he knew he wanted to go to law school eventually.

"After serving, law seemed like a way to have a bigger and wider impact on society and national security," Marshall said. The prospect of earning a J.D. for free under the post-Sept. 11 G.I. Bill was an added bonus.

But changes to the bill that took effect in 2011 meant he wouldn’t get as much financial help from the government as he’d anticipated if he attended a private law school.

While the Department of Veterans Affairs would cover more than 100 percent of tuition and fees for public schools, aid for private or foreign institutions was capped at around $18,000 per school year. That covers less than a third of the cost for private law schools in New York state, which is typically upwards of $50,000 annually.

Nevertheless, Marshall applied to several private law schools after he graduated from Baruch College, including New York University School of Law, his first choice.

"It was kind of unfair," Marshall said. "If I’d attended one of the more top law schools I would wind up with this big deficit."

He went to NYU anyway.

But frustrated by his situation, Marshall, now a 28-year-old 2L at NYU Law, wrote to the dean of financial aid asking the school to increase its benefits for veterans to bring it in line with schools such as Fordham University School of Law and Harvard Law School.

"NYU Law is supposed to be a top public interest law school," Marshall said. "So I felt we were really failing because we were missing out on a group of people with a certain level of maturity and have served in some of the harshest conditions on Earth."

In addition to the G.I. Bill funds, Marshall receives benefits under the Yellow Ribbon G.I. Education Enhancement Program, under which the Department of Veterans Affairs matches the contributions of schools. But NYU’s contribution was only $3,500. That and the $3,500 match still left Marshall short of the money he needed to attend NYU Law.

Along with other veterans attending the school, Marshall lobbied the law school for an increase in Yellow Ribbon aid. NYU Law increased its contribution to $20,000 a year—enough for veterans to attend for free.

After Marshall pointed out the unmet costs, NYU Law Dean Richard Revesz said the school was "pleased to increase our funding so that qualified veterans can now attend NYU Law at no cost. We have seen an increasing number of veterans applying to NYU in recent years, many with outstanding records."

NYU Law is not the only school giving its veteran students a boost. This spring, Columbia Law School announced it will increase its maximum contribution for veterans to $20,000 per student from $5,000 under Yellow Ribbon. Six veterans currently benefit from the Columbia program. Touro Law Center announced $10,700 in Yellow Ribbon contributions in April, plus a $3,200 scholarship to cover any remaining costs. Albany Law School offers 10 students $8,750 per school year under Yellow Ribbon, an increase from the $5,000 of a few years ago.

Since 2009, Fordham Law has set its matching aid under Yellow Ribbon high enough for eligible veterans to attend the school at no cost. Seventeen students receive reduced tuition through the program, with 14 getting the maximum waiver of $15,700.

To receive aid, former service members must have been honorably discharged after serving at least 36 months of active duty since 9/11.

Marshall said that "elite" colleges and universities have sometimes had a "tenuous" relationship with the military. NYU’s recent action "kind of opened the door to work on that relationship," he said.

Seven NYU Law students now receive financial aid from the Yellow Ribbon program. The school said it has seen a jump in U.S. military veteran applicants for the current admissions cycle.

Courtesy of Garen Marshall

SERV (Students for the Education and Representation of Veterans) advocates for veterans’ rights on NYU Law’s campus and provides free legal services to veterans off campus. Its members are, from left, Gregory Wilbur and Adam Jamal, with David Barno, a retired lieutenant general who spoke at a SERV event, and members Kate Englander, Garen Marshall, SERV’s founder, Michael Williams, David Leapheart and Eugene Krivulets.

@|Tania Karas can be contacted at tkaras@alm.com.