Welcoming veterans to college campus

Working together to better serve those who serve

Given the 16 years of continuous military activity following 9/11, it is not surprising that a large number of returning veterans are looking forward to the next step in their lives. As a nation, we should always remember their individual and collective sacrifice and courage.

Increasingly, higher education is taking a larger role in providing opportunities for our veterans.

About 924,000 veterans have obtained benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, according to the Pat Tillman Foundation and Operation College Promise. The American Council on Education reports that 62 percent of veterans are the first in their family to attend college, compared with 43 percent of non-veterans.

Clearly, the Post-9/11 GI Bill serves to thank our veterans and to support them with access to higher education.

We spend many hours in our classrooms and on campus debating and discussing the meaning of our many freedoms. It is very appropriate that we openly and fully welcome all who served to obtain and preserve those freedoms.

Yellow Ribbon Program

The Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program allows degree granting institutions in the United States to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the Veteran Affairs to fund tuition expenses that exceed either the maximum annual cap for private institutions or the resident tuition and fees for a public institution.

The institution can contribute up to 50 percent of those expenses and VA will match the same amount as the institution. Learn more at the U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs.

Needed steps

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted unanimously to extend and simplify expanded GI Bill benefits. It’s my hope that the Senate and President Donald Trump will quickly concur and make these changes law.

Several needed steps are moving forward in the bill:

1. Veterans will continue to receive benefits if their school closes or is unable to transfer credits. The closure of for-profit online educational programs had a negative impact on many veterans. Eligibility for need-based Pell Grants was restored earlier this year.

2. Purple Heart recipients will be immediately eligible for GI Bill benefits, replacing the current medical retirement or 36 months of active duty language. About 1,500 Purple Heart recipients will have access to higher education through this change alone.

3. Veterans who pursue degrees in the much-needed STEM fields will be eligible for a fifth year of benefits. Many of these programs have additional credits and semesters of enrollment, so this change increases access to fields where we as a nation need more graduates.

Employment opportunities are solid in these fields, providing the student veteran with a clear path to a bright future.

4. Veterans have faced a 15-year “use it or lose it” time limit on benefits. The removal of that limit will create a lifetime of eligibility.

5. The Yellow Ribbon program (see box), which matches a college or university’s institutional funds with public funds, extends the ability of veterans to pay tuition and fees. Surviving spouses and children of service members killed in the line of duty also will receive that Yellow Ribbon benefit.

The House legislation received overwhelming bipartisan support, demonstrating how we can work together to solve challenges facing our veterans. We will need to do more as our large number of veterans return home, but this is a very positive step.

I applaud the veterans groups and concerned citizens that have made this a priority and worked tirelessly to get it approved. Furthermore, I hope to welcome more veterans enthusiastically to our campus as they pursue higher education and work toward a very bright future.

Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa.

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