(Author’s note: Names have been changed to protect anonymity.)
The Post 9/11 GI Bill opened up an entirely new generation of veterans to post-secondary education. With veteran unemployment rates averaging well above the national level, many veterans are opting to go to college in hopes of securing a better job, courtesy of the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Many more soldiers are coming home, thanks to cessation of hostilities in Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan. This is already causing an enormous strain on the Veterans Administration. Many students are experiencing delays in tuition payments, book stipends, and housing allowances. This situation is only going to get worse as more and more veterans come home from war. In a rare display of bi-partisanship, the Vow to Hire a Hero Act was signed into law, and more incentives to hire veterans are on the horizon.
In his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama proposed a Veterans Job Corps that would cost $1 billion. Perhaps a better way to direct that money would be to either streamline the education benefit payment system or to establish an emergency relief program so Post 9/11 GI Bill students who rely on the housing allowance can pay their bills and feed their families.
An Army Veteran who goes to school in a major metropolitan area is currently going through a worst case scenario. His tuition has yet to be paid for the spring semester, which is due the first week of March, and he has yet to receive his housing allowance for the month of February and his book stipend. He called the V.A. to find out when he will be receiving the benefits that he has earned. The first three or four times he called, he received an automated response stating, “Due to the amount of calls we are currently receiving, we cannot take your call at this time.” Another time he called, he was given the option of a call back. The day and time of the call back appointment came and went and he never got the call. He finally got hold of an actual human being, and the telephone representative told him that now the average time to certify a class schedule and start receiving benefits was six to eight weeks. Unfortunately, those six to eight weeks will make him overdue on his tuition payments and the Veterans Administration will not pay for late fees and penalties. Nor will they pay his overdue rent that his housing allowance was supposed to pay for. Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly. There are many who are currently struggling due to the VA’s lack of capacity to handle the amount of veterans who simply want to better themselves through education.
The original GI Bill helped the “Greatest Generation” to propel our country to greatness. For Iraq and Afghanistan vets to become the “Next Greatest Generation,” we cannot let the Post 9/11 GI Bill become a victim of its own success. Changes have to be made to the program immediately, lest thousands of current and future veterans will miss out on a college education because they feel it is not worth it.
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Photo Credit: US Army Africa