I am a believer in our veterans. I am a believer that these heroic men and women, who serve in our armed forces, deserve an extraordinary amount of gratitude and consideration because they provide an extraordinary degree of service to the citizens of the United States.
All of them, whether they are in harm’s way or support those who are, pay a special price for their commitment. They are frequently away from their families and must place a “hold” on their civilian career, while fulfilling their military obligations. And most important, it is their presence, their commitment, and their skills that allow us to maintain a military that is second to none anywhere. It is why we sleep peacefully at home.
Our country has an obligation to support our veterans by making sure they have timely access to the employment, housing, social services and educational benefits they earned through their service and sacrifice. As our military and veteran population grows and changes, we must be committed to updating and refining policies to meet the needs of current and future veterans and their families.
And because they have given so much of themselves, I believe it is fitting — indeed, our obligation — to offer them a bridge across the waters they cross once they re-enter civilian life.
I have demonstrated my faith in the military by sponsoring more than several dozen bills that help veterans. Indeed, seven such legislative bills directly touch upon education and job opportunities with the simple goal of making this transition to civilian life as seamless and successful as possible.
For example, Senate Bill S-1480, establishes a “Troops to College Program.”
We know that not all educational opportunities or the institutions that veterans attend are equal. This is even more true when grading them against their efforts to provide special attention to veterans. This bill would choose three educational institutions that have already staked a claim to helping veterans and provide them with a grant that would expand their programs.
What are we looking for at these educational institutions? We would expect each institution to have a veterans’ assistance officer, who is the first line of contact and communication to whom a veteran can turn to in times of trouble, confusion, or simply in an effort to achieve clarity about the myriad issues that arise when trying to make educational choices. A partial list of the criteria we would employ when choosing this select group include:
- Number of scholarships offered to veterans
- Graduation and retention rates of veterans
- Course completion rates
- Does the institution waive application fees and provide priority enrollment to veterans?
- Student enrollment default rates
- Amount of institutional funds allocated to support veterans enrolled in the institution
The purpose of this grant program and the requirements we have created for schools that would like to participate is that it allows for a realistic framework upon which veterans can rely upon when they decide to attend school. Indeed, both through official communication methods and informal channels, veterans soon know which schools are veteran-friendly. The more they know about these schools the more likely they will choose a school with a culture and atmosphere that allows them to excel academically.
This is only one of several education and jobs-related legislative bills that I have introduced.
Other bills in the educational and job sphere include providing civil service preference for military members who did not serve in a theater of operations but received a campaign or expedition medal. Another makes grants available to employers who provide jobs to veterans, or provide veterans’ job training. Others waive professional licensing fees for veterans and their spouses, removing potential barriers to them re-entering the workforce.
Allow me one final thought. The next time you meet a vet in an educational setting or in a job situation, ask him or her, “How’s it going?” And, you might consider saying, “Thanks for your service.”
That’s my take, what’s yours?