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Veterans Affairs secretary: New GI benefits a plus

Free college tuition will boost recruiting, says Peake.

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The new GI bill "is a positive thing for our armed forces," said Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake. The legislation that Congress passed June 26 and is sending to the president provides veterans full in-state tuition and fees for enrollment in a public college.

Secretary Peake said the legislation, which also funds operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, "will help in terms of recruiting."

Before his service at the VA, Peake earned a medical degree and rose to be a three-star general and surgeon general of the Army.

The secretary will have a short tenure in the second-largest federal department since he did not take office until December 2007. He told reporters at a Monitor Breakfast, Friday, that his goal before the Bush administration left office was to make sure the organization "has a blueprint forward to do the right thing for our veterans. That is what our obligation is."

Modernization is a key step in that blueprint. "We need to change some of our medical models out there and some of our cultures ... because we have mostly been dealing with older men" from the World War II and Vietnam eras, Peake said. Vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan "are at a different stage of their life, ready to reenter with their families, ready to reenter society, and I think shifting to make sure we do the right adjustments for them is more the issue," he said.

Among other changes, Peake said the department was "actively trying to reshape our approach to women" including requiring each VA medical facility to have a full-time women's coordinator. Roughly 14 percent of military personnel are now women versus 2 percent in 1950, he said.

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