By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2009 – President Barack Obama today saluted the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill during a ceremony at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Signed into law on June 20, 2008, the new GI Bill is a Department of Veteran Affairs-sponsored program that provides the most comprehensive educational benefit package for veterans since the original GI Bill -- the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 -- was authorized toward the end of World War II.
Today’s new GI Bill, Obama said, was implemented “to renew our commitment to ensure that the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America get the opportunities that they have earned.”
Obama observed that his grandfather, who served under Army Gen. George S. Patton during World War II, was a beneficiary of the original 1944 to 1956 GI Bill, which helped to produce a strong post-war economy, as well as the largest middle class in U.S. history. By 1947, Obama noted, half of all Americans enrolled in colleges were military veterans.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is just as important as the original, Obama said, as it also recognizes servicemembers for their wartime service and represents “an investment in our own country.”
Obama said the new program will provide today’s veterans “the skills and training they need to fill the jobs of tomorrow.”
“Education is the currency that can purchase success in the 21st century,” the president said, “and this is the opportunity that our troops have earned.”
With the Post-9/11 GI Bill, qualified active-duty and selected reserve servicemembers who have served after Sept. 10, 2001, are eligible for 36 months of state-school educational benefits -- the equivalent of four nine-month academic years. Benefits include tuition and fees that are paid directly to the school, a monthly living allowance paid to the participant, and a books and supplies stipend paid to the individual.
And as of Aug. 1, qualified career servicemembers have the option to transfer benefits to their spouses or children. Most servicemembers who have at least six years of military service and are in the armed forces on or after Aug. 1 and agree to serve an additional four years qualify to transfer their benefits.
“We are including the family members who have sacrificed so much by allowing the transfer of unused benefits to family members,” Obama said. “And we are including those who pay the ultimate price by making this benefit available to the children of those who lost their life in service to their country.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, who also spoke at the ceremony, exhorted Post-9/11 GI Bill participants to “make it count; make it count for all of us. Make it count for our country.”
Shinseki observed that more than 1,100 private educational institutions have elected to participate in the supplemental Yellow Ribbon Program that permits eligible servicemembers and veterans to attend private colleges and universities whose costs exceed the highest in-state rates at public undergraduate institutions.
Under the Yellow Ribbon Program, VA “will match whatever is contributed by those private colleges and universities, up to 50 percent of those total costs,” Shinseki said. “We are grateful that so many schools have joined this effort and we thank them for their support of our veterans.”
Former Marine Staff Sgt. James Miller, an Iraqi war veteran who introduced Obama at the ceremony, is taking Shinseki’s advice. Miller has enrolled as a full-time student at George Mason University under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business communications.
“Thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the young veterans of the wars in the Middle East are united here,” Miller said. “We have come to gain new skills and to learn new subjects. We are here to pursue educational goals that will prepare us for success in our professional careers.”