Helping veterans and their families get the education and training they need is one of the most important missions of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the GI Bill. Perhaps no piece of legislation played such an integral role in shaping post-World War II America than did the GI Bill. It allowed millions of men and women to pursue higher education, many of whom could not have afforded it otherwise, and was so successful that by 1947, 49% of college admissions were veterans.
Today, the GI Bill continues to assist veterans and eligible family members to pay for education and training, enabling them to get the degrees and certificates they need to find meaningful employment in the civilian world.
Student veterans are usually older and may have more work and life experience than a typical college or vocational student, so finding the right college or school can be a challenge.
“Veterans need to find a school where the faculty and staff are attuned to the unique needs of student veterans, understand the culture of the military, and project a friendly, inviting atmosphere. Schools where there is a community of veterans and where there are student veteran organizations are usually a good choice,” said Martina Murray, DVS director of veteran education. “Because student veterans tend to be older and have different life experiences — sometimes even in combat situations — faculty members often remark that veterans often bring new perspectives to their classrooms and discussions.”
DVS helps student veterans in several ways. An important part of DVS is the State Approving Agency for Veterans Education and Training, which works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to administer and oversee the GI Bill programs. Veterans may use their GI Bill benefits only at approved programs of instruction — and it’s the job of the Virginia SAA to review and approve every GI Bill program in Virginia.
“The Virginia SAA had approved approximately 1,000 programs of instruction across the commonwealth. That includes public and private colleges and universities, community colleges, vocational schools, licensure and certification exams, on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs,” Murray said. It averaged over 50,000 student veterans per year for the past several years, and just last year Virginia veterans received over $900 million in GI Bill benefits.
“We want our student veterans to get the best education and vocational training they can, using the benefits they earned while serving,” Murray added. “We share in their success when they find gainful employment in the civilian workforce.”
Through its Training and Education Alliance program, DVS offers free training and assistance to Virginia colleges and universities on how to recruit and understand student veterans.
Colleges and vocational schools that complete the training earn TEA certification. TEA-certified schools include Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University, many of Virginia’s community colleges, private colleges such as ECPI, and vocational schools.
“To attract veterans, schools must also work to consider the training they received in the military and give transfer credits for this training,” Murray said. “Two colleges in the central Virginia area that are very veteran-friendly are VCU and John Tyler Community College. Both have a large percentage of veteran students, and both have very active student veteran groups.”
DVS also acts as a resource to student veterans, offering counseling and assistance in helping them apply for and receive their GI Bill benefits, and with any service-related medical disabilities or family issues that the veteran may have.
“A trend we are seeing today in veteran education is that many veterans are looking to obtain credentials and not only a degree,” Murray said.
“As so many veterans are older and often have families to support, it can be financially difficult for them to attend college or vocational school full time. Earning credentials in technical and vocational subjects gives them the opportunity to earn money while they pursue a full degree.”
Murray noted that her staff members are also doing as much outreach as possible to reach transitioning veterans before they leave active duty by visiting with service members one on one at military installations such as Fort Lee and Fort Eustis.