Here’s some great news from the Department of Veterans Affairs: Thanks to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, over 440,000 vets and their eligible beneficiaries enrolled in educational programs.
The first GI Bill was created during World War II, and it gave thousands of returning soldiers unprecedented access to higher education. Historians and economists often cite this groundbreaking legislation as one of the key factors in creating a strong postwar US economy and building a solid middle class.
However, as US military involvement increased in Iraq over the first decade of the 21st century, it became clear that this landmark legislation needed an update. In 2008 Congress passed the new Post 9/11 GI Bill, and President Bush, who actually opposed the legislation, bowed to political pressure and signed it into law.
In 2010 the bill was further enhanced by what some called the GI Bill 2.0. Signed into law by President Obama, this legislation extends veterans’ benefits beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar campuses, and and for the first time allows tuition benefits to be used at vocational and on-the-job training programs. And in a nod to the growing role of technology and online education, this latest iteration of the GI Bill expands the housing allowance to those "soldier scholars" enrolled in a distance-learning program.
“For over 68 years, GI Bill programs have shaped and changed the lives of service members, veterans, their families and survivors by helping them reach their educational goals,” the Under Secretary for Benefits, Allison A. Hickey, observed. “Benefits provided under the Post-9/11 GI Bill will continue to shape and change the lives of veterans by helping them build a stronger foundation for their careers.”
Experts familiar with veterans’ issues are particularly positive about expanding the bill to include vocational and training programs. This gives returning vets the ability to plug into a program that builds on the skills they acquired in the military, and then provides the training to retool for the civilian job market. And thanks to a tax credit for businesses that hire returning veterans, more employers are working with training institutions to help develop programs that equip students to make the switch from soldier to civilian.
Traditional colleges and universities are doing their part as well. More and more of these institutions are becoming aware that the transition from a military culture to the civilian world can be tough.
Wounded warriors come in all shapes and sizes. Some bear the physical scars of battle, while others are victims of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. And for others, just making the transition from the military to a Citizen John or Jane poses practical problems.
"Having faced some life-threatening situations in the military, I was actually more fearful of the choices that I had when I entered college. I didn't have someone basically saying, 'Here is your exact daily schedule' or 'Here is your objective,'" says one Navy veteran.
With the war in Iraq ended and the conflict in Afghanistan winding down, the Veterans’ Administration predicts the number of vets and their families seeking either post-secondary education or training will increase.
“This is one of the most important programs helping our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reach their educational goals,” says Eric K. Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “We’re proud this important benefit is making such a big difference in the lives of so many veterans.”