By Rep. Nick J. Rahall
This month, our nation marks the fourth anniversary of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, legislation that provides modern education benefits for a modern military force.
With large numbers of veterans returning home after service in conflicts involving Iraq and Afghanistan, our nation is facing a new wave of veterans who are striving to successfully reenter civilian life. Recognizing their needs, I have been active and vocal in championing legislation, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, in an effort to provide educational assistance and employment opportunities for returning veterans.
The notion of helping the men and women who serve our country to attend college came to fruition prior to the end of World War II with the passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the G.I. Bill. The program was an enormous success not only for the veterans who attained access to higher education, but also for the American economy that benefited from a well-educated workforce. The success of the G.I. Bill spurred Congress to pass a number of other education benefits programs for veterans over the decades.
The events of 9/11 and the military operations that followed saw our military engage in new types of conflict that required an influx of manpower and a sustained overseas presence. Congress recognized that “service on active duty in the Armed Forces had been especially arduous for the members of the Armed Forces since September 11, 2001.”
Though our National Guard and Reserve truly became an operational force during the 1990 Gulf War, the requirements imposed on our citizen-soldiers after 9/11 became much greater. Overall, our country asked much more of our all-volunteer force, and I wanted to ensure that our veterans received “enhanced educational assistance benefits… worthy of such service.”
The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is the most successful military higher education program to date. More than half-a-million veterans and dependents took advantage of this program to pursue a higher education.
An important component of this legislation was the introduction of benefits tailored to fit the needs of college-bound students. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill administers benefits to the veteran-student and takes into account the cost-of-living, textbook expenditures, and testing and licensure fees.
While I am pleased with the positive impact the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill has had on our veterans, I also think the program needs to be strengthened and improved. Nearly one in four veterans do not use their education benefits. Further, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) needs to process G.I. claims in a more timely and accurate manner. I continue to press VA to improve its outreach to veterans in this area.
Fortunately, southern West Virginia offers many great and nationally recognized higher-education programs for our veterans. The staffs who administer these programs, some of whom are veterans themselves, care deeply for our veterans and work very hard to ensure that veterans receive and capitalize on the education benefits they have earned.
Of course our men and women are well-served by these benefits, but we as a nation are well-served by their service and sacrifice. The character traits of a service member — leadership, courage, and responsibility — translate well to any academic environment, and will only serve to strengthen our system of higher education and the economy.
The benefits afforded to our service members through the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill enable them to continue to serve our nation in whatever careers they decide to pursue. And, these benefits provide all of us with an opportunity to thank our veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice.
(Rahall represents West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.)