What’s the GI Bill Anyway?

Changes since 1944 make way for new veterans to attain stability once stateside.

By Edward Graham

Legislation geared towards supporting veterans has benefited one-third of all returning veterans since it was introduced more than 70 years ago according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but faces new challenges to meet the needs of American soldiers stateside in 2015.

As millions of soldiers returned from World War II, Congress passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 to provide loans, financial benefits and living and academic stipends for veterans. Known as the GI Bill, derived from the term “Government Issue,” the legislation recognized former soldiers for their service to the country through a bevy of benefits that allowed them to transition into the American workforce.

Mike Singer, a retired military historian who lives in Temple Hills, Maryland, said that the GI Bill granted a host of benefits to returning veterans that allowed them to pursue higher education and more affordable housing opportunities.

“They were able to get a real leg up once they returned from World War II,” Singer said.

Bill Gray, from Silver Spring, Maryland, served as an Army lieutenant in the 4th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War and used benefits from his GI Bill to finish college after the war.

Gray went through the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, a program through the VA, where he learned about real estate and ultimately become a realtor himself. Not every veteran initially latched on to the opportunity though, Gray said.

“A lot of the guys, when we got out, they said ‘you can go this way to go to a class to learn about your benefits, or go this way and go home,’ and most of us wanted to go the way to go home,” Gray said. “We didn’t want to deal with the BS of yet another class because we were 22, 19, 20. We thought we we invincible.”

‘War on Terror’ shapes new bill, soldiers

The GI Bill was updated in 1985 to keep up with the rate of inflation, and became known as the Montgomery GI Bill, but much of the legislation remained stagnant for several decades until the events of 9/11 placed a greater emphasis on the role of America’s soldiers serving overseas.

Many veterans service organizations grew out of the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks and the U.S.’s declared War on Terror, but it took several years for legislative efforts to catch up with the initiatives of non-profit organizations.

On his first day in office as a U.S. Senator in 2007, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., proposed the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act as a modernized update to the Montgomery GI Bill.

The new Post-9/11 GI Bill was more closely aligned with the across-the-board benefits of the original GI Bill, providing wide-ranging benefits for returning veterans and their families. The new bill provided up to 100 percent of tuition for public and in-state universities, better housing and loan opportunities and greater access to employment training programs.

Gray said he doesn’t follow the current politics of veterans’ legislation, but his own experience has taught him that the country needs to do more to address the issues affecting returning soldiers.

Marta Avery, who served for 10 years of active service and two years of inactive service in the 30th Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the North Carolina National Guard before retiring in 2009, was eligible for benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill.

“All military people, no matter what branch you join, are offered the GI Bill, or what’s now the Post-9/11 GI Bill,” Avery said.

Her son, Michael Daza-Hines, a retired marine who served for five years, was also able to put his Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits towards his education. He’s now a law student at Yale University.

“Michael’s using his Post-9/11 GI BIll to help pay for college,” Avery said. “It’s really helped him out a lot.”

Strengthening the bill

Although the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s benefits are available for any veteran returning from active military service since the September 11 terrorist attack, some for-profit higher education institutions used the program to expand their revenue base at the expense of a solid education.

The Department of Education’s “90/10 rule” places a 90 percent limit on the total revenue for-profit institutions can receive from federal student aid. Because veterans’ benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill are excepted from this rule, many for-profit institutions aggressively recruited returning veterans for their programs. This led to many veterans receiving sub-par educations, unaccredited degrees and debt that blocked potential employment opportunities.

An investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting conducted last year found that more than $600 million in veterans’ benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill were spent on for-profit California institutions. Many of these institutions provided unaccredited degrees and often failed to qualify for financial aid from the state of California.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C., recently introduced the Career-Ready Student Veterans Act of 2015 to prevent veterans’ benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill to be used at higher education institutions that are not accredited. The same legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., is also working its way through the House.

In announcing the legislation, Blumenthal said that veterans’ benefits should only be used for institutions that provide a worthwhile education.

“Only accredited school programs should receive GI benefits, because our nation’s heroes deserve the best, not the dregs, of American education,” Blumenthal said in a statement announcing his legislation. “Federal funding for substandard programs is a disservice to veterans as well as taxpayers – and this safeguard is long overdue.”

Veterans and former members of Congress gathered at the National Archives on November 5 to discuss the future of veterans’ legislation and support programs.

Panelist and former Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., said that one of the most important focuses should be improving the Department of Veterans Affairs’ relationship with veterans and outside non-profit organizations.

“The VA cannot do it all,” Buerkle said. “It’s physically impossible and I don’t think they’re equipped in the current format. So I think the biggest challenge with the VA is to change the culture.”

Helping vets find homes

Basic needs, including shelter and clothes reach D.C.’s homeless veteran population through The Salvation Army Emergency Social Services team.

By Beverly Kwakye

From a distance, The Salvation Army Emergency Assistance office on the corner of Harvard Street in Washington, D.C., appears small with a nondescript façade. Inside, however, the organization is dedicated to being among one of the groups who help the entire D.C. community.

Program Manager & Homeless Outreach Coordinator Theresa McKillop and caseworker Paula Dyan worked with a homeless veteran, whose name won’t be used for privacy reasons, for about seven years. Through Dyan’s efforts, the social services team connected her with housing, as well as furniture, first month’s utility bills, clothing and other necessities.

The Salvation Army's Emergency Assistance and Homeless Outreach Programs, Program Manager Theresa McKillop, provides emergency financial assistance and crisis intervention to residents of the District at the Emergency Assistance office in Harvard Street D.C.

The Salvation Army’s Emergency Assistance and Homeless Outreach Programs, Program Manager Theresa McKillop, provides emergency financial assistance and crisis intervention to residents of the District at the Emergency Assistance office in Harvard Street D.C. Photo Credit: Beverly Kwakye

The woman struggled to adjust at first, McKillop said. Homeless individuals often struggle to accept their new life setting after living outside with no beds or basic housing utilities. Some even choose to sleep on the floor or by the door just for safety issues, McKillop said.

Eventually, the woman adjusted to her new living environment and landed a job through the assistance of Dyan. She continues to be employed and housed, McKillop said.

The organization’s staff say that the veteran is very thankful for her new life. She frequently comes back to the social services office to say hello and to thank the workers for their efforts, according to McKillop.

“I feel good about that,” McKillop said with a smile.

Last year, The Salvation Army provided 226,276 meals, rental assistance to 1,535 households as well as utility assistance to 3,467 families with both veteran and non-veterans. Veterans who were facing eviction due to late rent payments, or were homeless and found housing through the organization, received first month’s rent and security deposits, said McKillop.

“We help with a whole gamut of services but primarily with rental and utility assistance,” McKillop said.

Aside from helping veterans and residents with rent and utilities, the organization assists with common needs like food, clothing, burial assistance and birth certificates.

McKillop said the Salvation Army gears their services towards the needs of the community, adapting and changing as needed.

The Salvation Army’s main focus is on housing help, and because they’re serving more veterans, the organization wants additional funding to serve specifically vets, according to McKillop.

JaNese Simon, social services program coordinator for The Salvation Army, maintains the staff and makes sure that the team is giving the best quality service to the clients they serve.

“We can look at the amount of veterans we do serve and see if there is a greater need,” Simon said.

Veteran homeless population decreases under Obama

The veteran homeless population is falling, but 50,000 — and potentially many more — still lack permanent housing

 

By Derek Hawkins

Homeless veterans made up more than 11 percent of the adult homeless population in the United States in 2014, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At the beginning of each year, the agency measures the scope of U.S. homelessness by tallying the number of people living on the streets or in temporary housing on a single night in more than 3,000 cities and counties nationwide. In 2014, more than 578,000 people were living without permanent housing, and nearly 50,000 of them were veterans, according to HUD.
Advocacy organizations such as the National Coalition for the Homeless say the figure is likely much higher — potentially in the hundreds of thousands on any given night — but HUD’s surveys are the main metric for policymakers.
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President Barack Obama and the Department of Veterans Affairs launched an ambitious program in 2010 to end homelessness among veterans through partnerships with state and local governments. Since the program’s inception, veteran homelessness has fallen by about 33 percent, while the total U.S. homeless population has fallen less than 10 percent, according to HUD data.