A promise was made to our country’s veterans back in 1944—A promise of hope and a brighter future. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, stating that, “It gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down.” More commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights, this piece of legislation not only promised an education and brighter future, it effectively built the foundation of the Greatest Generation.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is America’s new promise to veterans. Introduced in 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs intended to assist veterans in the readjustment to civilian life—enhancing competitiveness as a Nation through the development of a more highly educated and productive workforce. If the original GI Bill of 1944 could create the middle class of today, the Post-9/11 GI Bill can empower the Next Greatest Generation of tomorrow.
The problem however, is that we are still facing an economic crisis in America today and veterans are doubly affected by the employment prospects and uncertainty while trying to make the transition home. So where does the Post-9/11 GI Bill come into play? Well, with the current economic climate leaving 7.9% of Americans unemployed, it is no wonder that the number one reason for failure in higher education is fear of debt. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates approximately $1 trillion in outstanding student loans. If you can imagine, for example, giving 4 years of yourself to service for your country, only to come home trying to build a future on tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt before you can even get a job—then you can imagine the landscape without the promise we made to our nation’s heroes. Fortunately for our returning veterans, the benefit is a game-changer—leaving student debt as a thing of the past.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill boasts eligibility based on days of active duty service, where men and women of our armed forces can get all of their tuition and fees covered at institutions of higher learning for graduate and undergraduate degrees. Furthermore, veterans can receive an allowance or stipend for living expenses based on the geographical cost of living. If that wasn’t enough, the New GI Bill also pays up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies, a one-time relocation allowance, and the option to transfer benefits to a spouse or dependent. It doesn’t stop there either; other approved training under the Post-9/11 GI Bill includes vocational/technical training, on-the-job, flight, and correspondence training, licensing and national testing programs, entrepreneurship training, and tutorial assistance.
If getting paid to get an education isn’t motivation enough, statistics help us bridge the gap in understanding how important a college degree can be. The Department of Labor shows us that there is an inverse relationship between one’s level of education and the average unemployment rate, such that higher education correlates with lower relative levels of unemployment. Furthermore, a direct relationship exists between these levels of education and median weekly earnings starting with $652 for a High School graduate and increasing to $1,735 and $1,624 for Professional and Doctoral degrees respectively. Thus, higher education quite literally translates into more opportunity and retention, gainful employment, and is an investment for success in an economic recession—allowing graduates the potential to earn and save more for the future.
In 2010, the Department of Education reported that about 74 percent of young adults with a bachelor's degree or higher were employed full time, compared with only 55 percent of individuals holding a high school diploma or its equivalent. Thus, the mindset that an education isn’t necessary to succeed in today’s economy just isn’t sound or valid in American society today. Things are different for this generation of veterans—we are competing with job-seekers from across the nation and around the world in a high-tech environment where a high school diploma doesn’t cut it.
In the military, we all learned to improvise, adapt, and overcome, and the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the conduit for affecting change in the current economic climate. As the Next Greatest Generation, we must continue to think outside the box for solutions, as the issues will not simply be solved with more jobs, but with higher education.