Monday, April 16, 2007

Veterans Deserve a Better GI Bill

While most of the focus on veterans' care has focused on the shortcomings at Walter Reed, we are overlooking a huge problem with veterans' education benefits. In the long run, this can severely hurt America's ability to recover from this time of war.
Troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan should be afforded every ounce of opportunity our country can squeeze to get them onto a college campus - the use the benefits that lured them into the service.
Yet, so many come home and have been falsely told by their unit retention NCOs that if they stop drilling in the Guard or Reserves that they will not get any education benefits. The VA will pay claims for benefits equal to the time a veterans was deployed, plus four months.
For example, a generator mechanic with the state national Guard deploys to Iraq and is away from home (and school) for 15 months. If he has completed his six-year commitment to drill with the Guard, he can return from Iraq and go to college - with his benefits, for 15 months+four months - a total of 19 months of GI Bill benefits.
The retention NCO is directed by the DoD to hang those already -earned GI Bill benefits over that veteran's head to get him to re-enlist and keep the unit staffed and ready for future deployments.
So, great - we kept a generator mechanic in the National Guard - in five years that person is going to be - well, a generator mechanic.
But perhaps he says, screw you - I've done my time and the Army lied to me. So screw the Army, screw going to school and heads for the nearest liquor store or grabs a bag of weed. Now, we have someone who could have gone to college - who should become a future leader and productive member in society - but we let him down.
Education and life around a college campus can be such a positive thing for a returning veteran - why would we chance the alternative route for someone who has honorably served in our wars?

This is just one topic in the highly-Greek language of the VA Gi Bill. There are legislators now who are looking to re-vamp the GI Bill to make it more like the one that made our grandfathers so successful after WWII.

Here's the beginning to a story about some other challenges vets face with the GI Bill. The article will be published by In These Times and the Vermont Guardian.
You can read it in full on on reporter Terry Allen's website.

By Terry J. Allen, April 2007, In These Times & Vermont Guardian
With his boyish face and soft tangle of curls, Matt Howard looks like he should have carried a fishing rod though a Norman Rockwell summer. Instead, the 26-year-old Vermonter lugged a gun through two tours in Iraq. Now, what the former Marine really wants to wield is a college diploma. But he and other returning veterans are finding it hard to collect the college benefits they expected when they enlisted in the military.That expectation was fueled by promises from military recruiters and the soldiers’ own financial commitment. All new recruits are given a one-time, use-it-or-lose-it opportunity to buy into benefits eligibility by paying $100 a month for their first year of service. Any benefits unused 10 years after they leave the military are forever lost, including the $1,200 "kicker." The almost 30 percent of active duty veterans who bought in and didn’t collect their educational benefits over the last decade effectively donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the U.S. Treasury.Many veterans who applied under the 1984 Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) say they faced black-hole bureaucracy and college costs that far exceeded benefits."I was so disgusted by how hard it was to get my college benefits, I just gave up," says Howard about his first experience enrolling in the University of Vermont (UVM), a relatively affluent state/private school in picturesque and progressive Burlington. "I volunteered for the Marines, served in Iraq and I appreciate the pat on the back and being called hero, but the military sells itself on money for college; it is the major recruitment tool. This is supposedly why I sold my soul to the devil."


Jessica said...

Unfortunately, no one warns you that you can't actually support yourself on the GI bill alone. You have to work full time even with the GI bill to survive. How does one do that with a family and a day job? They don't.

hoochBP12 said...

So damn true. The GI Bill is barely covering the costs of higher education. it's our working class Americans who join the military hoping to better themsleves who face the reality of working while trying to attend college after the military. College for veterans becomes a mission like any other, just get it done so you can eventually get a good job and earn a decent civilian living, it's not the fun college life that other have.

Thursday Next said...

I agree. If the GI bill included a stipend to live off, in addition to tuition reimbursement, then that would be a much better deal. Still not enough to support a family, but at least one person, would be more decent considering the sacrifices a soldier makes.