On Aug. 1, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will have officially been in effect for four years. On that anniversary, VA reports that nearly 1 million servicemembers, veterans and beneficiaries will have used the most generous education benefit that our country has ever offered its military.
"I like to refer to them as the next greatest generation," said Curtis Coy, deputy undersecretary for Economic Opportunity at VA. "At VA, we're proud to offer this benefit to, as I said, about 1 million beneficiaries so far."
In all, VA reports that it has paid out more than $30 billion under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which offers assistance for tuition, books and housing to veterans who have served at least 90 total days since Sept. 11, 2001. The legislation was expanded two years ago to include vocational training such as flight school and careers in technical fields.
Coy said that VA can also report that it has begun processing payments for tuition and housing within five to seven days. VA's future plans, Coy says, include creating a school guide that helps GI Bill users select an institution that best suits them, a comparison chart of schools and a feedback submission system for GI Bill users who wish to submit complaints and experiences to VA.
VA also hopes to establish wide-ranging conformance from schools to its Principles of Excellence - an executive order from President Obama that urges oversight from schools in their recruitment of veterans and asks schools to help GI Bill users make informed decisions about their education.
"Three thousand six hundred schools have agreed to participate in the principles," Coy said. "They offer guidelines that promote transparency and student success."
The next big goal for VA is to find graduation rates for users of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Up to this point, these statistics have been mostly speculative and even the subject of controversy, as several media outlets earlier this year incorrectly reported that GI Bill users were graduating at a lower rate than their student counterparts.
VA is currently working with Student Veterans of America (SVA) on a study that both organizations hope will find concrete numbers on graduation rates and correctly measure the success of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Though, Michael Dakduk, executive director of SVA, says the organizations are approaching the study with caution, as four years is no longer the standard amount of time for a student to finish college. This is especially true for a student veteran who is older and possibly has a family or other outside obligations, Dakduk says.
"We have to be very careful in thinking that four years is enough time for them to graduate with a bachelors degree," Dakduk says. "Four years is no longer synonymous with a bachelors degree."
Joe Sharpe, director of the Legion's Economic Division, says tracking student outcome is essential for tailoring the Post-9/11 GI Bill to fit the needs of future generations of veterans.
"Tracking graduation rates for Post-9/11 GI Bill users is imperative because it will allow us to not only defend the GI Bill against any potential cuts from Congress, but it will also give us something to reference when we advocate for extension of current education benefits," Sharpe said. "The American Legion has strongly supported Student Veterans of America in its efforts to find solid, reliable graduation statistics for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and will continue to do so as SVA works alongside VA."