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Money not the only need of veteran-students

With sheer fortitude and patriotism, they enter the battlefield. Just out of high school or their initial years in college, they join the Army, Navy or the Air Force. Some years later, after the war is over or their terms have ended, these army personnel return to their normal lives. Many start reliving their lives and fulfilling the dreams they had sacrificed for the country. For many war veterans, going back to school and getting their degrees has become a major goal to pursue.

The U.S. government introduced the GI Bill in 1944 to make home ownership and college education accessible to veterans. But over the years, GI benefits weren’t able to fulfill the demand due to the rising cost of education, and Army personnel were having difficult times getting through college. They were either in debt or dropped out of school. But the new GI Bill, formerly called the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, proposed by Sen. James Webb, D-Va. gives a boost to the benefits. Congress passed this new bill June 30, and the educational benefits look positive.

The new bill, which is expected to cost $62 billion over 10 years, would pay full tuition for a public school and also provide a $1,000 yearly stipend, unlike the old bill, which provided only half the cost of tuition and required veterans to pay a $1,200 fee.

This new bill definitely works in favor of veterans. It will help them cover their tuition without going into debt. This could also be motivation for the veterans to go back to school. Many would ditch the idea of getting a degree due to high cost, but with this bill in effect, they wouldn’t have to pay anything. This could spark a rise in veterans getting their degrees and starting their new post-war careers.

This bill could also benefit student-veterans who otherwise would have chosen a vocational school or a community college to get a certification or an associate’s degree. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 40 percent of the 450,000 veterans attend community colleges. They can now choose to go to a four-year college and study what they want. This can help them to be experts in their desired field and start careers they might have decided on before joining the military.

According to an Oct. 30 New York Times story by Lizette Alvarez, this bill would help veterans, buffeted by war and a troubled economy, to seize on college as a roadmap to a productive life beyond the military. The Times, quoting Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, wrote, “This is the biggest step toward turning the page on what we did after Vietnam. They are in a safe place there in school, moving forward with their life.”

This new bill would certainly help student veterans to lower their financial burden and get a free education. However, there are some limitations.

The new GI Bill would go into effect on Aug. 1, 2009. So it would probably only be helpful for student veterans who join college after the date. All other veterans who are presently in school wouldn’t benefit from this new bill. Are the new student veterans lucky or the old ones unfortunate?

A Washington Post article by staff writer Christian Davenport dated Oct. 21 brings forward this issue and story of a veteran student, Tim Kaufmann, who has been attending George Washington University, and is already $30,000 in debt. Because he is graduating in December 2009, he will benefit from the new bill only for a semester. But what about his $30,000 debt and similar stories from other veterans? The government could say this is his problem because he chose to study at an expensive school. But there should be some sort of benefit for student veterans who are still in school so that they don’t feel left out or marginalized.

But is the question only about money? Certainly not.

The GI bill should also look at other issues to make student-veterans’ transition into school a better experience. According to Alvarez’s story, there are schools that offer special classes for the veterans. Cleveland State University offers veterans with a specific set of courses including Introduction to College Life, and University of California at Berkeley offers a class called Veterans in Higher Education. The University of Michigan has opened a veterans services office to help them with the admissions process.

Though Sen. John McCain and President Bush opposed this bill because it would make veterans choose academic life over service just three years after their duty, it has made its way and been passed by Congress. Bush has led the country into a war, the consequences of which many Americans are facing. The servicemen who have given themselves for their country and fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have fulfilled their duty. Now that they are back, the government should help them settle down and live their dreams. They decided to fight for the country and go to war. Now it’s time to honor their decisions and help them earn success in their post-war lives.

Bibek Bhandari is a senior international communication major from Kathmandu, Nepal.

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