By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2009 – More college-educated professionals will enter the next generation’s professional work force as a result of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said this week at the American Legion’s 91st National Convention in Louisville, Ky.
Shinseki lauded the organization’s efforts in advocating the new legislation, just as it fought for the original GI Bill more than 65 years ago.
“Just as you were responsible for the passage of the original GI Bill in 1944, your commitment here was instrumental, yet again, in getting this 9/11 GI Bill through the Congress,” Shinseki said.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect Aug. 1, and with its expanded benefits and the option of transferring benefits to family members, it’s likely to affect the country the way the original GI Bill did in 1944, he said.
Between 1944 and 1956, millions of veterans took advantage of educational benefits provided by the original bill and helped to fill the nation’s work force with qualified and trained professionals. Although they no longer wore the military uniform, the veterans’ contributions to the country weren’t any less significant, he said.
“Returning World War II veterans leveraged the educational opportunities they had under the original GI Bill into sustained economic growth for the nation, catapulting the nation into the world’s largest economy [and into a position of] leadership in the free world,” he said. “Our country became richer by 450,000 trained engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 66,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists and [by] millions of other college-educated veterans who went on to lead our great country in the second half of the 20th century.
“This new Post-9/11 GI Bill has the potential to impact the country in the same way, thanks to your leadership and the leadership in country,” he added. “You’ve been our eyes and ears for identifying needs for veterans.”
The education opportunities also will help VA in its struggle to end homelessness among veterans, which, Shinseki said, also will have an indirect but positive effect on a host of other issues. Veterans lead the nation in homelessness, he said, and also are ranked among the highest groups in the country for depression and substance abuse.
In 2003, more than 195,000 veterans were without homes. Shinseki pointed to a lack of education and employment opportunities, as well as mental-health and substance-abuse issues, as the main reasons for the over-representation of homeless veterans.
Today, VA estimates that 131,000 veterans are homeless, and Shinseki said he’s determined to get them off the streets within the next five years. His department and President Barack Obama’s administration are moving in the right direction to tackle the issue, he said, but he noted it won’t be easy.
“We’re moving in the right direction to remove this block from all of our consciences, and are committed to ending homelessness,” he said. “No one that has served the nation as we have should live without care and without hope. I know there are no absolutes in life, … but I also know that if we don’t put a big target out there, we won’t get our best efforts.”
Homelessness is the last stop in an unfortunate road for many veterans, the secretary said. “To do this well, we’ll have to attack the entire downward spiral that ends in homelessness,” he said. “We must offer education, we must offer jobs, we must treat depression and we must treat substance abuse, [and] we must offer safe housing [for homeless veterans]. We must do it all.”
The Post-9/11 GI Bill may not deliver an immediate impact on the homeless issue and others that veterans may face, but education is a long-term investment that will ensure many of their futures, he said.
“This investment in America’s future will go on for decades to come,” he said. “I told you what happened the first time we did this: thousands of trained engineers, scientists, doctors, dentists, accountants [and] teachers. Lightning is about to strike twice. And those who’ve answered our nation’s call are going to be benefited into being leaders for our country in the 21st century through this program.”