Monday, July 30, 2012

The GI Bill and Shattered Dreams

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

~Rudyard Kipling, "Tommy" 

When I got out of the Army I was told the new GI bill would pay for everything, I wouldn't need to work other than a summer job, I could just "focus" on school.  It was billed as this wonderful one size fits all that would be perfect, and see me through.  It wasn't till I got to college that I began to see some serious problems with this new GI-Bill.  I was part of the first group that was actually going to College under this new GI Bill, and while the Post 9/11 or Chapter 33 sounded great, and it was a promise that brought (quite literally) tears to my eyes.  It was proof that my country did care that I wasn't just another number another troop. 

But then the SNAFU with the first batch happened and oh gee it took over two months to pay anything, or for the VA to figure out who is going where.  It's ok, because things are going to get better right?  Well, no actually, things only got worse from there.  What proceeded was this wild yo-yo with the school not understanding that I was a non traditional student (and thus could not pay 3 months room and board in advance) and oh by the way did I mention that I was also on the hook for credit card bills that I had to dip into because of that sanfu with the first semester I was here? 

This is my experience at a traditional State College.  Now add to that the terror, headaches, or just plain shock of the poor fools that bought into the "for-profit" colleges.  To be clear if there's a university that can get you a degree that you really want, I don't care, personally, if they make a profit or not.  I'm actually pretty disgusted by most of the State Colleges spending priorities, but these colleges have charged more for less product, and the Veteran who had wanted to avoid the morass of big universities, have now taken some really good shots to the kidneys. 

And here's the really messed up part.  That money is gone.  Doesn't matter if the Congress finds these colleges guilty of predatory actions, or whatever term they're going to use, that money is gone.  No one is going to get a refund.  There was no one to warn off these troops from making a bad decision, and perhaps that is to be expected, after all a private citizen is responsible for his or her actions, and the consequences positive and negative for the same.  This does not, however, make it right.  At the very least every Service Member should be warned of what to look out for when choosing a school. 

I've seen this a hundred times, from MILES, which will sucker a private into buying a car they couldn't afford until they get promoted a few (see four) times, to the STAR Card, which can only be used at AAFES, and oh did I mention that private without any credit or transportation can get one today?  It seems there are a million little gimmicks to separate us from our earnings, both in benefits and in pay.  Troops are given these bennifits because there simply is no amount of money one can pay that would justly compensate the things these men and women volunteer to do.   What Mercenary Army would willingly go to war for a decade, without sacking some great empire to loot its treasures?  I have heard talk of the dishonesty of giving GIs these dreams of college, then to cruelly send them off to war. . . but what of the cruelty of promising them a free ticket through college that is anything but?

I knew what I was doing when I signed on the dotted line, but I didn't know what I was doing when I decided to go to College.  I've made a lot of mistakes, mostly because I didn't know any better, and now as I'm about to use up the last of my GI Bill knowing there will be nothing left for me (I can't even get student loans now) I begin to wonder if perhaps we should not take the money from the Post 9/11 GI-Bill and focus it somewhere else. 

Given the Joblessness and Homelessness of the current Veteran population, and given that a brand spanking shiny new degree from anything but Ivy League schools (which the GI Bill wouldn't even come close to paying for)   is next to useless in today's job market, and given that more than a few Veterans have fallen victim to this horrendous machine that spits out useless pieces of paper for hundreds of thousands of dollars, shouldn't we maybe think about re-tasking this GI-Bill to help Start Up companies.  There's a Veteran just down the street that opened up his own Gun Store, how about we take the money he would have earned for college, and the GI Bill, and use it to create small business that are truly Veteran owned and run?

Ultimately what I want are options.  I don't really care about the degree I get, nor do I care about the college I go to.  I want to be productive, and I'm not the only Veteran that feels that way.  I didn't come to college with dreams of getting a degree with a B-line into a career field that makes 6 figures, but I've talked to many who were given that dream.  The stark reality that faces us often makes us feel more alone than ever.  Veterans don't want success handed to them, they want a chance to earn that success.  Give us the tools, and the road map, and we will get the job done. 


Well Seasoned Fool said...

Had we the internet, I could have written a blog much like yours in 1968. Wish I had a good answer for you.

Our solution was about twelve pissed off vets marching into the Denver VA office and scaring the shit out of those "Greatest Generation" REMFS.

Didn't accomplish much but sure felt good.

YN1K said...

Your story regarding the GI Bill and college is unique among the veterans I know. How you got into this situation interests me so I can help my young Sailors avoid the traps you mention.

The biggest question I have is, "What do you mean by "for profit" colleges?"