How #ForeverGIBill and STEM Can Bridge the Civilian-Military Divide
Student Veterans of America | July 26, 2017
Written By: Adam Behrendt
I am an undergraduate student veteran pursuing a degree in math at Stanford University. I was formerly a special-operations corpsman (medic), Navy Enlisted Classification 8403, having enlisted in October 2007, at the height of US involvement in the post-9/11 conflicts, and serving until I was medically retired in March 2015. I spent four of my seven years supporting reconnaissance operations in Southeast Asia.
I am also a volunteer for Service to School, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that works to ensure veterans draw maximum value from their educational benefits by gaining admission to the best universities possible.
The Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act of 2017, part of Forever GI Bill, addresses two of the Post-9/11 GI Bill's shortcomings, removing the 15-year time limit on entitlement use and providing additional funding for veterans in STEM programs requiring in excess of the standard 128 semester credit hours to complete.
First, Post-war readjustment is a process many service members will be involved in for the rest of their lives, so it makes good sense to remove the arbitrary time limit on entitlement use. The Forever GI Bill does this.
Second, 128 semester hours is the standard for most educational programs, including many quality engineering programs, but there are exceptions. For example, a veteran pursuing a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin is required to complete 133 semester hours distributed over eight semesters and their senior summer. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, such an individual would be financially responsible for tuition, fees, and subsistence during their senior summer.
While such limited financial responsibility is not the end of the world, if the Post-9/11 GI Bill is intended to cover the full cost of tuition and fees for qualifying veterans pursuing degrees at all public institutions, should it not cover this cost for all qualifying veterans, regardless of their major?
I can and would make the argument that the answer to this question should be no, generally speaking, since indiscriminate funding invites waste and abuse. But Forever GI Bill only extends funding for ambitious veterans pursuing rigorous programs and teaching certificates in STEM.
There can and should be little argument against such limited, targeted veteran support.
The arguments for additional funding for veterans pursuing rigorous programs and teaching certifications in STEM are numerous and well founded. STEM's long-term economic benefit and contribution to American competitiveness is critical, but I want to concentrate on a less common argument – the social value of veterans teaching math and science.
One side effect of fighting a prolonged conflict with an all-volunteer military is the growth of a civil-military divide – the isolation of the greater public from the costs and consequences of 15 years of war. This divide threatens the resolve of a democracy such as ours to sustain and support prolonged and necessary conflict. It also risks public support for ongoing and essential veteran services.
Encouraging (and funding) veterans with an interest in education, as Forever GI Bill does, will both ensure these veterans succeed in their own readjustment, and more importantly, ensure the next generations of Americans are exposed to veterans as teachers during their formative years. The public respect from this exposure will hopefully allow legislators to ensure veterans who gave much are neither neglected nor cast aside by the same democracy they volunteered to support and defend.