Hundreds of thousands of veterans are taking advantage of the new GI Bill. They need the support of the VA and educators.
This Veterans Day, hundreds of thousands of vets are taking advantage of the most generous GI Bill since World War II. Congress got it right in 2008 when it increased tuition funding for returning service men and women. With the aid kicking in this fall, the Department of Veteran Affairs as well as colleges and universities must also do right by student vets. [Editor's note: ]
That hasn't been so easy at the VA, which expects the number of veterans receiving federal education aid to increase by as much as 25 percent this year – to 460,000.
Applicants have overwhelmed the VA's old technology and bureaucracy, delaying delivery of checks that fully cover in-state tuition and provide a stipend for housing and books. (Matching dollars are available at private institutions that give vets financial aid.)
The backup has forced some veterans to choose work over school and drop classes for lack of funds. "I'm here to say we're sorry," said Tammy Duckworth, the assistant VA secretary, at the University of Missouri in St. Louis last month. More than that, the VA has hired 700 people to help process claims and is sending out $3,000 emergency checks to tide over veterans.
For their part, many colleges and universities are showing flexibility with delayed payments. Also to their credit, many of them are gearing up to serve this special population, which was not so warmly welcomed on campuses in the 1960s and '70s.
Helping America's student vets is more than a matter of funding. The transition from battlefield to campus green can be jarring. Vets are older, often married, and many arrive in class with physical and mental scars. Instead of combating the enemy, they're entangled with cumbersome bureaucracies.