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Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Greene: VA Latest To Pile On Masters

The Denver Post

How many ways can we mess with Tim Masters?

You may remember the Fort Collins native as Colorado's only murder convict freed through DNA testing.

You may know about his arrest, conviction and nearly 10 years in prison for a 1987 killing he didn't commit.

And you may have wished him luck quietly getting on with his life.

That's what Masters was trying to do when the feds denied his GI benefits.

"I'm not looking for a handout," says the former Navy man. "These are benefits I paid into and lost through no control of my own."

Masters, now 38, enlisted at age 18 and spent his first year in the military paying $100 a month so that some day after his service he could use the GI Bill to help pay for college.

To say he got sidetracked would be understating the horror he endured for the nine years, five months and 12 days he spent behind bars for the murder of a woman a judge since has said he didn't kill.

Masters has walked free for the past 20 months and tried to earn a living selling stuff through eBay. Since that market tanked six months ago, he has drained his savings, is packing up the apartment he decorated with military memorabilia and is moving in with family.

He has enrolled in a program to earn a license working in airplane mechanics, as he did in the Navy. He aimed to pay for his two years of schooling through his GI benefits.

But the estimated $30,000 owed to him won't be available.

The Montgomery GI Bill ends eligibility for education entitlements 10 years after veterans leave the military. Masters was honorably discharged in 1997. His clock tolled while he was serving a life sentence at Buena Vista Correctional Facility, while he wondered whether DNA tests and his dogged legal team would free him.

Colorado inmates don't have access to education through the GI Bill. Nor do our prisons offer airplane parts on which to practice aviation mechanics.

The bill does allow waivers to its time limits, but only to veterans who were detained by a foreign power, prevented from going to school because of physical or mental disabilities or whose paperwork was muddled by the federal government.

Masters doesn't qualify because it was state and county law enforcers — not the feds — who railroaded him.

He gave eight years of his life to the Navy and the nation, fixing planes that flew in the first Gulf War. Then he sacrificed nearly 10 more years as a victim of our justice system's many imperfections.

Colorado law gives him no compensation for the time he lost behind bars. And now the fine print in federal law keeps him from the education that's owed him.

Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the Armed Services Committee, is trying to help but says the matter is up to the Veterans Affairs Department.

The VA says it "empathizes with the veteran's situation" but that "the secretary of VA does not have the authority to grant a waiver in this case."

"It would take an act of Congress to assist in this matter."

In other words, ask your mother; if she says no, ask your father.

One VA official actually told me that if they bent the rules for Masters, they'd have to bend the rules for every veteran with a sob story.

Come on, people. Cut the guy a break.

"I thought they granted waivers for extreme circumstances," Masters says. "If my circumstance isn't extreme, I don't know whose is."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Veterans need to unite for Timothy Masters. This is such a disgrace. Other countries read this and you can imagine their opinions about the U.S.A.

Anonymous said...

I sends out a poor message to everyone not just other countries but our own as well. not to mention the people serving in the armed forces at this present time. Any ideas on what we can do to help masters out?

Anonymous said...

I say senater Udall, get off your ass and help this guy get his benefits. If it takes an act of congress so be it. Get it done. As for Colorado legislature not helping out with some compensation for the 10 years you disgraced this man. Shame on you all of you. You provide the people who convicted him wrongfully with amunity and legal help. When the hell are you all gonna wake up and do the right thing. All hypocrites. djw

Anonymous said...

The Fort Collins DA and police department should foot the bill. They screwed up Tim's life.

When will we start holding DA's accountable for prosecuting/persecuting innocent people? The DAs go for convictions so they can tout their conviction record when it comes time for re-election; justice be damned! They only want to make sure they have a conviction for every case they can. They don't want any "unsolved" murders or crimes, they would rather convict an innocent person.

Barney said...

They railroaded this man with lies and untold truths. Then, when he tries to go after the DAs (now Judges - isn't that scarey?!?) and the officer who destroyed his life, we (the taxpayers) pay for their legal defense, and they walk scott free, without so much as a slap on the hand.