An American soldier willingly risks his or her life and emotional well-being for the United States in times of military conflict. For that sacrifice, the government should provide that hero with every opportunity to reintegrate into the world he or she left behind.
However, with the current benefits in place, veterans do not receive the necessary finances for a high-quality education, which they were promised upon recruitment, when they return from battle.
When originally drafted, the Servicemembers’ Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly called the GI Bill of Rights, gave full tuition, housing and living costs to veterans of World War II, aiding more than 8 million. After the bill expired in 1956, legislators passed a myriad of acts to evolve it and create opportunities for future veterans.
In 1985, Congress passed the Montgomery GI Bill, a peacetime measure requiring soldiers to pay $1,200 during their first year of service. In return, soldiers are entitled to 36 months or four academic years of education benefits after completing the full period of their enlistments. The benefit was required to be used within 10 years of military discharge.
Up until the passing of the new GI Bill, or the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act on June 30, 2008, most veterans’ benefits did not exceed $39,000 for their entire college education. The cost of in-state tuition fees and room and board at state universities, which are much cheaper than their private counterparts, is generally more than $40,000 for a bachelor’s degree. That figure doesn’t take into account books or living expenses such as utility bills and the cost of food. Veterans like Marine Corps Sgt. Keith Shaffer, a junior mechanical engineering major, have to pay out of pocket for many of their expenses. The GI Bill barely puts a dent in Shaffer’s expenses.
“[The bill] is geared more toward a community college. A decent education costs too much money. Basically, the bill pays for me to live in Philadelphia,” Shaffer said. “Unless you have a solid family that supports you, there’s no way you can go to a decent university.”
The new GI Bill will cover full tuition, but is capped at the cost of the most expensive public school in the state. It does provide a book and supply stipend of $1,000 per year and a monthly living stipend. More expensive private schools offering a veterans-only scholarship will be matched dollar for dollar up to the full cost of tuition, according to the GI Bill 2008 Web site.
But what about veterans like Shaffer, who missed out on three years of these new benefits? He will benefit from the new GI Bill in only one of his four years at Temple.
“With the economy the way it is, thank God I’m an engineering student, so I can get a job out of college to pay off my student loans,” he said. “[Veterans who missed the new bill] deserve better, but instead they’re killing themselves because they can’t work or can’t get a good education, it’s barely working for them.”
Shaffer has maxed out student loans and has applied for every veteran grant possible, but keeps losing to students with 3.95 grade point averages compared to his 3.35.
Shaffer will receive his check in early October, after he has paid for his books, supplies, transportation and rent.
The military should reimburse Shaffer, as well as all veterans who will miss all the advantages of the new GI Bill simply because they enlisted too early. These fighting men and women are being punished financially for wanting to serve their country earlier than others.
Knowingly forfeiting one’s existence is beyond noble, and deserves proper accommodations.
Tom Rowan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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