Educating and Employing Our Veterans

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Veterans Day is a federal holiday to honor all people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Formerly Armistice Day, it is held on November 11 each year, to recognize the official end of World War I, reached on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. Following World War II, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day to recognize all veterans of all wars. Veterans do have federal employment privileges arising out of their service to our country that other employees do not enjoy. In recognition of the sacrifices made by those serving in the Armed Forces, Congress enacted the Veterans’ Preference Act in 1944. It requires the federal government to favor returning war veterans when hiring new employees in an attempt to recognize their service, sacrifice, and skills and to prevent veterans seeking federal employment from being penalized because of time spent in military service. By law, veterans who are disabled or who served on active duty in the Armed Forces during certain specified periods or in military campaigns are generally entitled to preference over non-veterans both in federal hiring practices and in retention during reductions in force.

However, there is no such preference or protection in private employment and Veterans Day is a good day to acknowledge and support our veterans in their efforts to find suitable and sustainable employment once they return from active duty.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 just over 21 million men and women, or approximately 10% of the civilian non-institutional population age 18 and over, are veterans. The total unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001 – a group referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans – dropped from 10% in 2013 to 7.2% in 2014.

For male Gulf War-era II veterans, the unemployment rate dropped from 9.6% in 2013 to 6.2% in 2014. However, the 2014 6.2% unemployment rate for male Gulf War-era II veterans is still 1% higher than the 2014 unemployment rate for non-institutionalized civilian men over the age of 18 (5.2%).

For female Gulf War-era II veterans, the picture is far worse. Female veterans had an unemployment rate of 11.6% in 2013 and 11.2% in 2014; those rates are significantly higher than their civilian counterparts. In 2013 the unemployment rate for non-institutionalized civilian women over the age of 18 was 6.5% and in 2014 it is down to 5.7%, nearly half the rate of unemployment for female veterans who served on active duty since September 2001.

The disparity in employment between veterans and civilians – particularly for women – is significant. Therefore, it is important to maintain a robust GI Bill, so that veterans can achieve their educational goals in order to be able to pursue promising employment opportunities once they return to civilian life.

To that end, in 2008, Congress passed a new, more generous version of the GI Bill that went into effect in August 2009. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, is an effort to pay for veterans’ college expenses to a similar extent that the original GI Bill did after World War II. The main provisions of the act include funding 100% of a public four-year undergraduate education to a veteran who has served three years on active duty since September 11, 2001. The Act also provides the ability for the veteran to transfer benefits to a spouse or children after serving (or agreeing to serve) ten years.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill sought to shore up an earlier iteration, the Montgomery G.I. Bill, which was signed into law in 1984 and replaced both the Post-Vietnam Veterans’ Assistance Program and its predecessor, the original WWII GI Bill. But as college costs continued to skyrocket, in most cases the Montgomery GI Bill wasn’t enough. The $800 monthly subsidy barely covered community college, let alone the expense of a four-year degree. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill described the prior educational assistance as “outmoded and designed for peacetime service.” The Post-9/11 GI Bill gained bipartisan traction once Sen. Olympia Snowe signed on.

Subsequently, on December 2010 Congress passed the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2010. Significantly, while the new law, often referred to as GI Bill 2.0, attempted to expand eligibility and certain benefits, it removed the state-by-state tuition caps for veterans enrolled at public (state-operated) colleges and universities. Under this law, beginning in August 2011 the Department of Veterans Affairs only has covered up to $17,500 a year at private schools, and only paid “the actual net cost for in-State tuition and fees assessed” by public schools.

Due to the differing residency rules from state to state, the caps have caused some veterans who utilize the Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay the difference.To remedy this situation, a bipartisan bill, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act, has been introduced in the 113th Congress. On February 3, 2014, the US House of Representatives passed the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013, and, if enacted, the bill would require states to offer veterans the in-state tuition price instead of the out-of-state tuition price, regardless of whether the veteran met the residency requirement. Passage of this Act would better enable our more recent veterans to obtain the education they need to compete more successfully in a competitive job market.

And, as George Washington poignantly recognized,

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war,
no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive
veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by this country.”