US Papers Sat: Veterans' Challenges in College
A look at veterans in college as a new GI bill is passed: The new kid at Centcom
Lizette Alvarez of the New York Times writes nice feature on efforts to bring more veterans into college – sometimes through college programs and veteran’s groups, sometimes with the veterans on their own, trying to figure out how to navigate an admissions system which does not favor them. When a new GI bill takes effect in August of 2009, a wave of veterans is expected to enroll in higher education, so the article takes a look at those currently enrolled.
“The all-volunteer military draws in a segment of the population that has not customarily gone to college in the same proportion as other parts of our society,” says James Wright, the President of Dartmouth, and a former Marine who started a program to provide individualized college counseling to seriously injured veterans at military hospitals. He hopes the new G.I. Bill “will cause them to raise their aspirations.”
Dartmouth’s admissions office takes military experience into account, Mr. Wright says. He advises veterans to bring their service record to the institution’s attention, perhaps through the essay requirement. Discipline, as well as job and leadership qualities, brings something to the table that cannot be matched by young students. Yet there has to be a sense that the veteran can cope with the demands of the courses. “We don’t look for the same thing in terms of test scores, but we are not doing them any favors,” Mr. Wright emphasizes. “We want to make sure they are prepared and would succeed.”Every institution doesn’t have a president who is mindful of such things, and colleges are often ill-equipped to recognize the differences that can exist between someone just out of high-school, and someone who has spent years in military service. One veteran spoke of what happened after he was not accepted to a college he applied to. “My father finally got in touch with the president of the university and with his typical Irish charm said, ‘Something might be wrong with the computer system. I’m sure it’s nobody’s fault. But did you just deny a combat veteran with all this experience and a guaranteed $40,000 if he comes to your school?’ ” Two weeks later, an acceptance letter arrived.
Few would argue that the impact of the new G.I. Bill, formally the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, will rival that of its prototype, mostly because there are far fewer eligible veterans and the new law is less generous. The original bill paid for public, private and vocational education. This one covers public education for most veterans who served after 9/11 and eases the burden of private tuition. The law also extends many benefits to members of the National Guard and the Reserve, and offers stipends for housing and textbooks. But it does not pay for non-degree vocational training.Some veterans’ stories are highlighted.
Still, the law is viewed both by veterans and colleges as an opportunity to do right by today’s combat-tested troops and mend a relationship that has badly frayed since the antiwar movement of the 1960s. The hope is that new veterans, buffeted by war and a troubled economy, can seize on college as a roadmap to a productive life beyond the military.
“This is the biggest step toward turning the page on what we did after Vietnam,” says Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We saw the G.I. Bill as a way of attempting to deal with veterans’ reacclimation issues in a more comprehensive way. They are in a safe place there in school, moving forward with their life.”
Mr. Rieckhoff’s group spearheaded efforts to pass the bill, written by Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat and Marine Corps veteran. The bill met strong resistance from John McCain, the senator from Arizona who is now the Republican candidate for president, and from President Bush, who argued that it would prompt service members to choose college over re-enlistment after just three years. But ultimately, it passed handily and was signed into law on June 30.
LIKE his fellow veterans, Mr. Blanchard is determined not to let his injuries dictate his future. Following in his father’s footsteps, he joined the Marine Corps right out of high school, in 2001. His specialty was combat engineering, because “I wanted to blow stuff up,” he says. In 2005, he was deployed to Iraq near the Syrian border, where he went on patrols and blew up gates and doors so buildings could be searched. Six months later his Humvee hit the roadside bomb that took half his leg.The only other Iraq-related story, also in the Times, is by Thom Shanker. He files from MacDill Air Force Base , Florida about Gen. David H. Petraeus taking the wheel at Central Command. It deals more with Afghanistan strategy than anything else, but Iraq makes appearances.
After his roommate at Walter Reed was accepted by Georgetown University, Mr. Blanchard decided to aim high himself and apply to George Washington University, which now has about 300 veterans who receive benefits and 200 who do not, a university spokeswoman says. The two veterans moved into an apartment in Virginia together, and Mr. Blanchard started his first year.
But he didn’t count on his brain playing tricks on him. Although doctors had diagnosed mild traumatic brain injury, he shrugged it off. Compared with losing half a leg and nearly losing his other leg, a slightly shaken-up brain did not register as a concern. “Whatever,” Mr. Blanchard thought to himself.
Two days into classes, though, he noticed that he was retaining little of what he read or heard in the classroom. “My mind was blurred, cloudy all the time, and I was walking around in a daze,” says Mr. Blanchard, who does not advertise his injuries because he wants no special treatment. “I had a full load and I dropped all my classes except two. And yet I’m studying all the time. It was so frustrating.”
Over time, his brain learned to compensate. “I just started to remember better, adjusting how I think,” says Mr. Blanchard, now a junior studying international business. “It’s still very hard. With classes like regression analysis, I’ll never be the same again,” he says, jokingly.
Although his good leg hurts all the time, he refrains from taking pain medication whenever he can. Instead, he works out at the gym and allows his endorphins to lessen his discomfort, reduce his anxiety and help him concentrate. He also started a student veterans group, which has put him in touch with about 20 other veterans and has greatly diminished his sense of isolation. This semester, his grades are average and he is taking a full load of courses, along with added responsibilities as vice president of Student Veterans of America.
General Petraeus becomes responsible not only for overseeing military operations in Iraq, where he still views recent gains as extremely fragile, and in Afghanistan, where violence has increased markedly, but also for a strategic crescent that includes Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.Lessons learned in Iraq are ever-present, as is praise for Petraeus’ tenure there.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stressed that while it would be a primary task for General Petraeus to “keep us on the right path in Iraq,” an immediate challenge was “bringing coherence to our own strategy” in Afghanistan.
General Petraeus, who served three tours of duty in Iraq, became one of the most recognizable American officers of his generation, and his final tour there was as senior Iraq commander, overseeing a significant troop increase ordered by President Bush nearly two years ago. But it was not solely the addition of five combat brigades that helped improve security. The troop “surge” was accompanied by new strategies, adopting a counterinsurgency doctrine written under General Petraeus’s leadership.Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
The military jettisoned a previous emphasis on achieving victory by having American troops capture or kill adversaries as the soldiers rolled out each day from major bases. Instead, the new strategy pushed combat forces out to smaller hubs in Iraqi cities and villages, with a new emphasis on protecting the population.
Mr. Gates lavished praise on General Petraeus, saying that “history will regard him as one of our nation’s great battle captains,” an officer who is a “soldier, scholar, statesman.”
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.