The lack of support for our student Veterans is shameful to say the least, as the sacrifices made by our service-members and Veterans is why we have our United States of America.
Our organization will again soon be going to Washington, D.C.to speak with numerous Members of the U.S. House, Senate, and Committee on Veterans Affairs to discuss re-introducing the Bill we helped draft, and were able to get introduced in November of 2012, HR 3483 - "The Veterans Education Equity Act of 2011". In March of 2012, I testified on our Bill in front of the House Sub-Committee on Economic Opportunity, under the Committee on Veterans Affairs. With the support of our North Carolina U.S. House Members our bill obtained 59 co-sponsors in the 112th Congress.
Although the Bill never made it out of Committee to be voted on, we still contend our organizational efforts were very successful. Even considering our research provided cost-savings measures for the Department of Veterans Affairs of more than $310 Million, which was nearly triple the $137 Million our Bill was estimated to cost according to the CBO, our Bill was essentially tabled.
I'm asking for your personal and organizational support for our efforts to see Bill (HR 3483) gets re-introduced, whereby equalizing every Veterans opportunity to complete the college education owed to them regardless of where they live or whether they choose to attend a public or private institution.
When it comes to any Veteran issue it is a non-partisan issue, which invariably necessitates all party support because our Veterans didn't make such sacrifices for a party, rather their sacrifices were for America. At some point, despite the economic climate we're currently facing, we must remember the sacrifices made by our service-members, our Veterans, and their families weren't in vain because "Freedom Isn't Free". To properly ensure the continued rights and freedoms America continues to enjoy - "America Must Matter".
Signing this bill into law would equalize education benefits for Veterans who attend public or private institutions of higher learning. In addition, the bill would reduce or eliminate the financial burden Veterans must pay out-of-pocket for their education. Currently, Veterans who enroll in private institutions are eligible for more benefits than Veterans who enroll at public institutions, including both community colleges and universities alike. This legislation would enable all Veterans, regardless of whether they choose to attend a public or private institution, to be eligible to receive up to $17,500 in education benefits per academic year. The result is a better future economical outlook and investment in our Nation, for now and tomorrow. With your help and sponsorship of HR 3483 – “The Veterans Education Equity Act of 2011”….you have a true chance to be heroes for thousands of our student Veterans across this great nation.
Consider the following story sent to our organization to assist in our efforts, from a Vietnam Veteran’s widow regarding the similar struggles he faced with residency for tuition purposes using the GI Bill:
My late husband, Bob Anderson, ran into the same residency issue when he returned from Vietnam and applied to Southern Utah State College in 1973. He penned a letter to Dean Sterling Church, which overturned the College's decision on residency and admitted him as a student who became an honor roll habituee. Since my copy is terribly faded, I will retype below for your information or to pass on all Veterans whom deserve to be admitted wherever they desire!
Dated: August 28, 1973
Dear Dean Church:
I have recently received your letter indicating that my request for residency status was refused by the reviewing board. This may sound a bit like sick humor, however, I am beginning to wonder just where I do belong from the standpoint of residency!!
Prior to entering SUSC in the fall of 1972, I was employed by the American National Red Cross. My employment with that organization was effective 24 Oct 69. Since that time, and, prior to arriving in Utah I lived in the following areas:
1. Norfolk Naval Base, VA.
2. Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD.
3. New Cumberland Army Depot, PA.
4. Indian Town Gap Military Reservation, PA.
5. 4th Combat Infantry Div., An Khe, Viet Nam.
6. USARV HQ, Long Binh, Viet Nam.
7. Camp Prensell-Jones, Viet Nam.
8. Bear Cat (Royal Thai Army Volunteer Force), Viet Nam.
9. Red Carpet, Viet Nam.
10. 90th Repl. Bn. Long Binh, Viet Nam.
11. Bangkok, Thailand.
12. Korat Royal Thai Air Focce Base, Korat, Thailand.
13. UTAPAO AFB, Thailand (surgery).
14. Ft. Dix, NJ.
A little simple math indicates that I moved once for every 2.4 months of employment. The longest stay I ever had during that period of time was at Korat AFB (6 mos).
My permanent mailing address happens to be in New York. I say this only as my parents reside there. I can't even buy a resident hunting or fishing license in the State of New York! I do, however, own property in this state and have a resident hunting and fishing license!
It seems odd that I have the capacity to perform humanitarian work throughout the world, yet, can't find a state in this great country of ours that will take this weary traveler in!
A recent piece of contemporary poetry states, "If you own a house in Hell, and a farm in Viet Nam; Sell the farm and go home!" I've sold the farm, come home, and it certainly feels like Hell. Will someone with a fair degree of perspicacity please tell me just where in "HELL" I do live?
Robert S.L. Anderson
Bob was very proud of this letter and its ability to reverse the decision on his college residency. He passed away in July of 2012 as a fully disabled Vietnam veteran. We affectionately called him "Robbie Red Cross." If this letter and/or its contents can help Sgt. Perez and any other very deserving vets, I hereby give my permission for it to be published.
As we can see, the problems of residency for tuition purposes has been around far longer than most realize.
An Associated Press article published on Sunday May 27, 2012 titled AP IMPACT: Almost half of new vets seek disability, states that nearly half of our nation’s new Veterans are seeking disability compensation. They’re referring to the more than 1.6 Million service-members whom served upwards of 6-7 deployments in this 10-year war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reality of how many service men and women that have suffered life-threatening and long-term injuries, is just now being realized by our government and the VA.
According to Harvard economist Linda Bilmes, "This is a huge number and there's no money set aside," she said. "Unless we take steps now into some kind of fund that will grow over time, it's very plausible many people will feel we can't afford these benefits we overpromised."
The question then asked by the AP was, “How would that play to these veterans, who all volunteered and now expect the government to keep its end of the bargain?”
"The deal was, if you get wounded, we're going to supply this level of support," Bilmes said. She goes on to say that right now, "there's a lot of sympathy and a lot of people want to help. But memories are short and times change."
My thoughts after reading the full article are to commend such an honest and well thought out set of statements, which I took to be supportive of our military and Veterans alike. However, what I find as a bit misleading was comparing and nearly diminishing the fact that had it not been for the volunteer effort of the same service-members whom sacrificed so much for our nation, in this war on terror, there would have certainly been a draft. Our younger service-members and Veterans are not asking for any more than they were promised...most of us just survived.
The words, "Freedom isn't free" are so very true, yet our Veterans today seem to be so demonized as though we are asking for something that's not already ours. Our Veterans should never have to ask, and sometimes beg for the very things we were promised for the sacrifices made to protect our great nation.
As in any good business...taking care of those whom take care of you, builds strength we all benefit from. While the economy is tough, statistics prove that taking care of our Veterans through the benefits promised to them, yields one of the highest return on investments of any others out there...period.
By doing so, our Veterans are given the square deal promised to them, which yields such a high return that will benefit the rebuilding of our local, state, and national economy as a whole. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “A man who is good enough to shed his blood for the country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.”
Based on assessments and numbers that our organization has been able to work on regarding the number of Veterans whom are enrolling at a school of higher education due to interrupted studies resulting from active-duty service, and those whom are enrolling for the first time, we have determined:
- Prior to 2011, nearly 75% of student Veterans were using the GI Bill to complete their education after interruptions from active-duty service obligations.
- After 2011, only based on information we’ve collected from various service-members whom have only served in the military after 2008 and recently having completed their active-duty service obligations, approximately 67% of them are attending a traditional classroom setting in a two-year or four-year college for the first time.
There are considerable challenges and obstacles facing student Veterans today different than in times past. For the first time since the inception of the GI Bill are being saddled with the financial burdens affecting nearly 250,000 nationwide with approximately $10,000 per academic year out-of-pocket, due to a change with the GI Bill regarding residency for tuition purposes.
The detrimental impact suffered by student Veterans across North Carolina, and approximately 35 other states, due to the change in federal law, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-377) on January 4, 2011. As a direct result of this change in law thousands of student Veterans, and prospective student Veterans alike, faced the never-before issue of in-state residency for tuition purposes.
In a sense, our active-service members and current student Veterans whom, by-in-large, had no idea their State of residency for tuition purposes would invariably be the determining factor as to whether they could afford, much less, attain the educational benefits promised to them - for the sacrifices they made to protect our nation.
The next major obstacle student Veterans are being faced with at public institutions considerably more often than private institutions – is the lack of services, facilities, resources, and assistance available to student Veterans attending such institutions of higher education. According to research done by many public universities; student Veterans make better grades, graduate at a higher rate, obtain better jobs, start more businesses than traditional students.
According to American Counsel on Education (ACE) research:
“only 64% of Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries who responded to surveys anticipated they could finish their degrees on time. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, qualified veterans are allowed 36 months to complete their education. To accomplish this, veterans specified that courses must be made available when they need them and cited the importance of receiving academic credit for military service and training. The main two factors that contribute to graduating on time are course availability and course credit.”
“Because of the size of their student populations, course availability is a larger concern at public universities. Veterans get the courses they need by taking approved classes at accredited schools near their primary institution.”
“According to an ACE survey, only 47% of veterans who made an attempt to transfer credits were satisfied with the results. Veterans most often receive course credit for degree programs at private schools by finding allies such as academic advisors and professors who advocate on their behalf and initiate appeals. This helps them transfer more course credit and ensures that they will graduate on time.”
Another obstacle student Veterans are facing today is the short-sited decisions being made by the Federal, and some State governments due to the financial hardships facing our Nation. History has proven that post-war is the worst recession, and best economical boom our Nation experiences, versus other time-periods. Part of such success is due to the positive impact educating our Veterans has on the economy, which is paramount to the growth needed today.
Many Veterans are finding it extremely difficult to adjust back to civilian life for a multitude of reasons. Let’s keep in mind a big difference with the ten-year war in Iraq and Afghanistan contrary to past wars, is that our service-members have survived at a higher rate than prior wars. Of course, that’s a blessing, but it also precipitates a much greater need for preparation and care at home our nation wasn’t ready for. As a result of the unanticipated transitional difficulties from the backlog of delayed processing of VA claims; many service-members, Veterans, and families thereof, are suffering from unforeseen hardships that could otherwise be avoided.
A lot of student Veterans are adjusting to the transition back to civilian life and the academic environment well, considering the multitude of obstacles they’re facing by way of the lack of resources and services available at most colleges. In addition, the alienation felt by many student Veterans due to such publicity regarding the traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder thousands have been diagnosed with, has only added further distance between Veterans and their successful re-integration.
It goes without saying that any Veteran organization that assists and supports Veterans is wonderful, but the mere presence of a Veteran organization does not constitute use of the term effective. Student Veterans of America does a tremendous effort in advocating for student Veterans but there’s a greater need to ensure the accountability of our State and Federal agencies, as they are legally obligated to provide fair and equal treatment. While providing a great foundation is necessary for the success of any organization, the concept requires additional measures of consistency to be fully integrated system-wide.
With the expected increase of nearly 60% for Veterans entering college and university campuses, completing their higher education degrees after exiting the service, it is more important now than ever for colleges to provide the adequate and available resources necessary to achieve the success historically proven. The vast majority of colleges and universities declare their steadfast support of being “military friendly”, but making such a claim requires far more than rhetoric to be true.
Our society today is overstated with the blank-checks it offers to one group or another. The difference between student Veterans and other groups is that not one student Veteran is asking for more, or less, than what’s owed them for their time in-service to our nation. We’re not asking for a hand-down, a hand-up, or hand-out. Rather - we’re merely asking for the benefit we’ve fought for, died for, and earned, in defending the freedoms our great nation continues to enjoy.
Character is defined not just by what we say we’re going to do, but what we do following what we say. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “when making any decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” The right thing to do for our Veterans is reflected best through our actions, not rhetoric.
The following link is to a song I wrote from three poems I wrote when serving in Iraq, called "A Soldier's Penance". I hope it can aid you in a better understanding of the personal struggles and thoughts many service-members and Veterans experience.
Jason R. Thigpen
Student Veterans Advocacy Group
Mobile: (910) 470-0666
Follow the SVAG on:
"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." Theodore Roosevelt