In the contemporary political context, the issues affecting American veterans are especially prominent. After defending the country’s interests abroad, veterans come back to the United States to face concerns regarding their future and the future of their families. In particular, retirement from the military usually means that people need to find a new source of income. However, a lack of specialized education limits the employment options of veterans, while financial concerns affect their ability to pay for higher education. The present paper will review the problems faced by student veterans and describe the historical background of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that serves to solve some of these problems.
Description of the Problem
Veterans’ education is a significant issue in contemporary America, as thousands of veterans return home each year and enter the U.S. educational system. Borsani et al. (2017) state that as of 2017, 2.5 million veterans who served in Iraq have enrolled in college with the help of veterans education policies sponsored by the U.S. government. For these people, obtaining higher education presents numerous challenges that affect their success in education.
First of all, most veterans face financial problems upon retiring from the military, as they have limited job opportunities without a specialized college degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018), there were 370,000 unemployed veterans in 2017, 59% of whom were 25 to 54 years old. Financial problems influence college enrollment, as not all veterans can pay for college tuition.
Another important issue is that many college programs do not provide sufficient accommodations for veterans. For example, Borsani et al. (2017) state that veterans take longer to complete a college degree than students who have never served in the military. Many veterans also have physical or mental health issues that can affect college attendance and educational success. Physical disabilities and mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression, are often diagnosed in veterans (Borsari et al., 2017).
The symptoms associated with these problems affect college retention rates and the academic performance of student veterans. Additionally, many veterans may lack the skills and resources required to complete an undergraduate degree successfully. Falkey (2016) states that veterans are often less experienced than other college students in math and writing, and many educational institutions do not provide support for developmental education.
Finally, there are also specific emotional issues that affect the successful integration of veterans into the United States’ educational system. The differences in experience between student veterans and students who have never served in the military cause feelings of alienation and isolation (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2018). Although connecting with other veterans could help to foster a sense of belonging and improve adjustment to civilian life, few colleges provide such programs (Falkey, 2016). Feelings of isolation and alienation could affect the social functioning and academic performance of veteran students, causing them to be less active in class and struggle with building the communication skills required in educational settings.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill was designed to provide veterans with benefits to support their successful integration into the U.S. educational system. The bill was introduced in 2008 following the extensive military operations abroad as part of the War on Terror. The GI Bill program had been initiated in 1944 when the country anticipated an influx of veterans into higher education after the end of World War II (Falkey, 2016). Before that, the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 provided cash bonuses to war veterans to facilitate their re-integration into society (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs [DVA], 2013). In Hawaii, the GI Bill was introduced after the territory became part of the United States in 1959.
The evolution of these bills shows the changes in the government’s understanding of the issues affecting veterans. The 1924 act only recognized the veteran’s financial needs, whereas the GI Bill of 1944 also provided benefits with regards to education, home construction, and employment (DVA, 2013). The Montgomery GI Bill was also introduced as a specific measure to facilitate the education and training of veterans.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill specifically targets veterans who were on active duty for at least 90 days after September 11, 2001. The main changes provided in the Bill are a living allowance, increased coverage of educational expenses, and the opportunity to transfer education benefits to family members. The post-9/11 version of the GI Bill is thus the most comprehensive in terms of support provided to student veterans.
A Description of a Policy
The bill is intended to provide financial benefits that cover certain expenses relating to education. First, the bill covers the full price of tuition for in-state schools up to the amount of $22,805.34 (DVA, n.d.). Second, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides a Basic Allowance for Housing that covers the cost of living in a city or town where the chosen college or school is located (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs [DVA], n.d.). Third, the bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits.
For veterans whose service on active duty ended before January 1, 2013, these benefits are payable for 15 years after the end of active duty (DVA, n.d.). However, for those who were on active duty after this date, there is no time limit to use the education benefits, as provided by the Forever GI Bill (DVA, n.d.). The education benefits can be used to cover school fees as well as books and other supplies. In addition to these provisions, the Post-9/11 GI Bill also allows veterans to obtain funding for private or out-of-state school tuition and fees and transfer benefits fully or partially to a spouse or child (DVA, n.d.). The development and implementation of the Post-9/11 Bill were supported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The main short-term goal of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is to encourage veterans to start planning for their future career by enrolling in specialized educational programs. The benefits provided by the bill apply to a variety of educational and training programs and their components, including “correspondence training, co-op training, entrepreneurship training, flight training, independent and distance learning, undergraduate and graduate degrees, licensing and certification, vocational/technical training and non-college degrees, national testing, on-the-job training and apprenticeship, tuition assistance top-up, and tutorial assistance” (DVA, n.d., para. 9).
Hence the bill provides sufficient flexibility regarding the choice of educational or training program. The short-term objectives are to improve veterans’ enrollment in educational programs, promote retention of student veterans, and increase their academic performance. Using the benefits provided by the bill, veterans can choose a career that interests them and take steps towards entering this career regardless of their financial capabilities. Thus the long-term goal of the bill is to facilitate the reintegration of veterans into civilian life by improving their employability and helping them to develop the knowledge and skills required to succeed in their chosen career paths.
There are no official government publications on the effectiveness of the bill. Therefore the evaluation of the Post-9/11 Bill is based primarily on scholarly research. There are a number of studies that discuss the effectiveness of the bill using different evaluation criteria. For example, a study by Zhang (2017) compared college enrollment before and after the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The research found that overall college enrollment increased by 3% on average, with the largest improvement in older veterans (45+ years old) and in those with a high level of existing education (Zhang, 2017).
Another study by Wenger et al. (2017) that was published by RAND Corporation evaluated the bill’s effectiveness in attracting high-quality recruits to military service, improving the continuity of education, and increasing the intention to use benefits, as well as its relationship to other veterans assistance programs. The researchers concluded that the bill achieved positive results according to all of these evaluation criteria.
As seen above, the evaluation of the bill considers the short-term outcomes of its policies. Although it would be useful to assess its long-term impact, this would require sufficient resources to conduct a nationwide study on veterans’ employment and their use of the education benefits provided by the bill. Thus even though the long-term goals and objectives of the bill are well-defined, it is unclear whether or not the bill is capable of reaching them.
The primary stakeholders of the bill are veterans who were serving on active duty after 9/11, as well as their spouses and children. The bill increases their chances of being successful in their chosen career path by enhancing their employability. The benefits provided by the bill also stimulate veterans to start planning for future education and employment after returning home, thus also supporting their re-integration into civilian society. State educational institutions are also among the stakeholders of the bill, as the policy improves enrollment rates and provides financial support from the government.
Employers also benefit from the bill, as it develops the skillset and knowledge of potential employees who have been serving on active duty. Finally, the government is also a stakeholder in the bill, as it provides funding for veterans to continue their education while also attracting new recruits to the military. As evident from the discussion, the bill offers certain advantages to all of these stakeholders, and thus their position on the policy is positive.
The stated goal of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is to facilitate the educational attainment of veterans by providing financial support. The goal of the policy is to increase the enrollment of veterans in educational programs and improve their employability over the long term, thus promoting their future career development. The ideological assumption that underlines the policy is that the government should support the reintegration of army veterans into civilian society in order to promote social equality.
The bill does indeed target one of the most critical issues faced by veterans following retirement from active duty, which is the threat of unemployment. Due to their service and its consequences, such as physical and mental health issues, veterans are at a disadvantage when entering the job market. They often have limited flexibility in terms of future careers due to a lack of specialized education and skills. Thus the value premises of the bill contribute to greater social equality by supporting veterans in obtaining formal education or the training required to enter a new career.
The economic feasibility of the policy requires an understanding of its costs to the government. According to Dortch (2018), the cost of the policy has doubled between 2010 and 2017, increasing from $5.5 billion to $11 billion. The increased expense was due to improved participation and higher average benefit per participant, and thus it is expected that the costs of the policy will surpass $12 billion in 2018 and 2019 (Dortch, 2018).
At the moment, the bill remains economically feasible, as the government is capable of covering the costs of the bill. However, as the number of participants increases further, the bill might become too costly for the government. From the political and administrative viewpoints, the bill will remain feasible, as its implementation is controlled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Dortch, 2018). As a distinctive governmental body, the DVA has the capacity to oversee the implementation and progress of the bill without needing more political and administrative resources.
The use of an equity-based framework implies that a specific policy helps to decrease the gap between a particular at-risk group and the rest of the population. The particular at-risk group of veterans that can be supported through the Post-9/11 GI Bill is unemployed military veterans. Loughran (2014) discusses the issue of unemployment among veterans in a report to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The research shows that the unemployment rate among veterans is higher than among non-veterans of the same age (Loughran, 2014). The author suggests that there are several critical causes for veteran unemployment, including health issues, skills mismatch, and difficulties in the job search. For instance, veterans who have recently retired from military service might lack the skills and knowledge needed to enter a particular career, and therefore it takes them longer to find a suitable job (Loughran, 2014). The GI Bill helps to remedy the situation by meeting veterans’ needs for training and education, thus reducing the gap in skills and employability between veterans and non-veterans.
Despite the fact that the Post-9/11 GI Bill is successful in improving veteran students’ enrollment in educational and training programs, there are some policy alternatives that might better achieve this goal. First, it could be beneficial to establish a more comprehensive policy that would increase the scope of financial assistance to veteran students who are studying part-time or enrolled in distance learning. Second, besides financial support and a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), an alternative policy could cover the cost of additional tutoring in writing and math skills, as well as psychological support.
Finally, it would also be helpful to establish a policy that would include various orientation events where veteran students could meet each other and learn more about entering civilian life. These policies would promote social equality by addressing non-financial gaps between veterans and non-veterans, including mental health issues and feelings of isolation. Nevertheless, they would also require a considerable increase in funding from the government. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a worthy expenditure, as it uses resources to address the most vital problems faced by student veterans.
Conclusions and Recommendations
On the whole, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is valid from a social equity perspective, as it helps to eliminate the gaps between veterans and non-veterans with regards to educational attainment. However, the bill has some limitations that should be addressed in order to increase its efficiency and achieve long-term goals. The first recommendation is to eliminate the Yellow Ribbon Program and expand the type of schools that students can attend with the aid of their education benefits by including out-of-state and private institutions. This would allow for more flexibility in choosing degree programs while also improving veteran employees’ attractiveness to employers.
The second recommendation is to provide a BAH stipend to part-time students in order to enable them to concentrate on their studies and complete programs faster. The third recommendation is to increase the term of education benefits to four years, as this would also help veterans to achieve a higher level of education, thus enhancing their job prospects. Implementing these recommendations would help to fill in the gaps of the bill while also encouraging more veteran students to participate in the program.
It would also cater to the needs of veteran students who cannot study full-time or on-campus or finish a course of study in three years due to physical or psychological constraints. Therefore, the recommended amendments would also promote social equity for disadvantaged student veterans, thus helping to achieve the long-term goals of the policy.
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