Written by Michael Dakduk
Last year, the Post 9/11 GI Bill was passed as a comprehensive education package extended to those who have served since September 11th, 2001. While politicians praise it as a remarkable success, and use it as a key campaign message, the benefit remains flawed.
Disregard the lack of support in timely benefits processing by the federal government, which hinders student veterans from graduating on time, and consider the language of the bill. The New GI Bill was passed specifically omitting distance learners from receiving the full benefits of the bill. Veterans who choose a course of study via online learning are not eligible for housing allowance; this can amount to thousands of dollars in aid per month. Online learning has become far more common with wounded veterans, full-time workers, and those with unique time constraints. I suppose saving money at the expense of online learners, whether they be wounded, constrained by family obligations, or simply interested in distance education, is not of concern to those on capitol hill.
I recognize that many veterans may not want to attend a four year institution. Some of us simply don’t have the patience to return back to school, as an older, nontraditional student, among a predominately younger consortium of students. Some simply have the desire to change into another uniform. Several individuals I served with returned home to serve their community as a law enforcement officer, certainly regarded as an honorable profession. However, those veterans who have made the irrevocable change from the original, Montgomery GI Bill, to the New GI Bill, will find themselves in a precarious situation. The New GI Bill, while amazing for the veteran who wants to attend a traditional brick and mortal institution, fails the veteran who wants to serve in a new uniform. The New GI Bill does not support vocational, or apprenticeship programs. Those interested in applying to a firefighter program, police academy, or any other trade are not supported. Apparently, those who drafted the New GI Bill missed the language in the old bill, where support for vocational programs are provided.
There is a list of leading veteran organizations advocating for veteran education reform. Currently, the push for Senate Bill 3447 and House Bill 5933 remain the focus. These two bills have the necessary language to provide an equitable GI Bill. While both pieces of legislation remain buried in congressional committees, many veterans are hopeful that they will soon be passed.
The question, however, remains: Will congress honor those who have earned the right to utilize education benefits in an equitable manner? Will a commitment to our nation’s heroes be a product of the moment? Education benefits for veterans have been both comprehensive and hardly supportive at different times in American history; perhaps now is the opportune moment to ensure it is maximized.
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