Somewhere high in the Afghan mountains, Staff Sgt. Todd Bowers is shouting for joy, dancing, and quite possibly, crying all at once. And I assure you, it’s not because Michael Vick is coming back to the NFL.
In less than five days, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will finally take effect -- ushering in the education dreams of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and veterans, like Todd, who have put their plans on hold to serve for our country.
Todd may not be as well known as Michael Vick, but his story mirrors those of countless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. A Marine since high school, he is serving his fourth deployment since September 11th. He is a highly decorated combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, but at 30 years old, one goal still eludes him: a college degree.
Deployed just two weeks before his freshman year of college, he returned from combat in Iraq in 2004 to concentrate on his studies, only to learn his unit was redeploying again. As he prepared for his second tour, Todd’s school notified him that they would not allow him to take his finals or finish classes, nor would they reimburse his tuition credits. It wasn’t until the media, in a noble instance of watchdog journalism, picked up on his story that the university backed down and permitted him to finish his courses.
This winter, when Todd comes home from combat, things will be very different. He will be among the first wave of veterans to take advantage of the new GI Bill.
Nearly half a million new veterans like Todd will begin to take advantage of this new benefit this Saturday, August 1st. Or they will at least try to. With a complicated and dense application process the new GI Bill is less than user friendly. And with the VA consistently coming up short in its embrace of Web 2.0 and new media, veterans looking for answers on their website are often left with more questions.
That’s why, this week, IAVA is launching a massive outreach campaign anchored by an online one-stop shop, NewGIBill.org. Outfitted with an exhaustive section of frequently asked questions, the website will feature a blog tracking real time updates on the GI bill and three of the most accurate calculators, determining benefits, eligibility, and transferability options for new veterans.
We will also work with the media, universities, and Congress to let Iraq and Afghanistan vets know about this new benefit. And, we are working tirelessly to provide resources for college administrators, faculty members and students so they can ensure our nation’s campuses are a welcoming environment for new veterans.
But as hard as we work to fill the information void, there are issues with the bill itself that require immediate attention from Congress and the President. Without decisive action, benefits could be jeopardized for a small, but significant group of veterans. Thousands will be impacted, including full-time National Guard soldiers, distance and vocational learners, and vets attending private schools in CA, MA and DC where separate tuition and fee caps are causing large inequities and confusion. The fight for a new GI Bill that works is not over yet. So we're pushing the VA, Congress and the White House to get their act together and swiftly implement these technical fixes, so no veteran is left behind.
While much of the nation speculates this week about what NFL team will take Michael Vick, we need the American people to help us cut through the media hype. Spread the word about NEWGIBill.org, and jumpstart a new era of progress and achievement for Todd and our nation’s newest veterans.
Crossposted at IAVA.org.