A push for changes in Post-9/11 GI Bill

A U.S. soldier stands to attention during a change-of-command ceremony at Camp Egger in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Tim Embree

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: Think of our last story as prologue as we turn to the Post-9/11 version of the GI Bill. It's on the books, but the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee is considering changes. Just last week, Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka of Hawaii proposed making improvements. Veteran Tim Embree is legislative associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Thanks for joining us.

Tim Embree: Thank you, Bob.

Moon: The Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect in August of last year, but veterans' groups like yours are still pushing for other changes. What do you think is needed?

Embree: Well, Bob, if you look at the history of the GI Bill, it's a phenomenal benefit. And just like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, it's an amazing benefit that is really helping a lot of folks as they're coming out of the military. And so what we've been pointing out with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, though it is amazing and it's doing great things, there's a couple of things that need to be tweaked. It's kind of like when that first iPhone came out, it was great when it first came out. Now they just had to make a couple tweaks, and now it's phenomenal. So it's the same type of thing.

Moon: One of the issues that I've heard discussed is online courses or distance learning isn't covered under the current law. Why is that important?

Embree: Well, what it is is we have a lot of folks that maybe come home and are dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or recovering from a traumatic brain injury or live in a rural area, and they're trying to attend these non-traditional colleges, online, through correspondence, because a lot of times they can't get to the brick-and-mortar schools. So we want to make sure that their tuition is covered, and also they have a living stipend. Because we know how tough it is where if you're taking a class online -- and the reason for that is because maybe it is tough for you to get out of the house -- we want to be able to make it so these folks can pay their rent or pay their mortgage.

Moon: What about troops returning from service who don't want to go to a four-year college?

Embree: That's a big one. If you actually look at the original GI Bill, over 70 percent of folks in the original GI Bill went to vocational schools, on-the-job training programs, and apprenticeships programs. And that was one of the things that we're really trying to push to be part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. In fact, Senator Akaka just the other day dropped the comprehensive upgrade package that we had been working with his office as well as Senator Webb's office and a few other folks on. And this is one of the things that it points out is making sure that folks can go to vocational schools, can go to on-the-job training, can do that apprenticeship. Because these are the folks that are opening up your mechanic shops, and your repair shops. These are the EMTs and folks like that. So it's a really important thing.

Moon: Well perhaps this day more than most -- setting aside the GI Bill -- this is a good day to talk about the problems that exist for troops when they reenter the workforce. Can you give us a hint on some of those?

Embree: It's rough. It's really rough. Last year's average for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans was 14.7 percent. Just this past month, it's still at about 13.1 percent unemployment for... Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. You know, it's tough for these guys. You got the military, it speaks one language, and the civilian world, it speaks another. So you have folks that are coming back and may leave the military, may spend some time hanging out with their friends, maybe spend some time sleeping in their mom's basement. And then they get to a world where, you know, they don't know how to translate their skills.

Moon: Tim Embree is legislative associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Thank you for joining us. Best to you, sir.

Embree: Thank you very much, Bob. Have a good Memorial Day.

Tim Embree

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