An Investment in the Future

The aftermath of 9/11 left the world in shock.

It left America wondering where to go from there. It left America wondering how to invest in the future.

A soldier returns home from war. He looks to his family… to his friends. He is unsure of what is to come next. But he knows he can get an education.

The freedom to pursue an education is one of many freedoms he and his fellow soldiers fight to protect. Knowing he can receive an education helps him feel a little less vulnerable in a world where countless veterans sleep on the streets.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs describes the Yellow Ribbon Program as a post-9/11 GI Bill enhancement that pays military-related recipients’ full tuition and fees for a public education, or a yearly national maximum for a private education.

In order to receive the program’s benefits, one can qualify in several ways: serving 36 months on active duty, being injured and receiving an honorable discharge, or having the benefits transferred to them as the child of a veteran, to name a few.

Marquette is a participant in the program, and since the Yellow Ribbon program’s 2009 inception, 97 students have received VA benefits toward their educations, with 52 of them receiving the additional Yellow Ribbon enhancement, according to data from Susan Teerink, associate vice provost for financial aid and
enrollment services.

Amy Thompson, veteran and navigator for the Wisconsin Veterans Network, was a three-year active duty training manager in the U.S. Air Force. She says the hardest part for veterans transitioning into non-military jobs is having expertise in performing tasks civilians don’t normally do.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to homeless veterans, many veterans are homeless due to factors such as lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, shortage of access to livable income and the potential of military training not transferring to being competitive in the civilian job market.

“When you have people that were either working on helicopters or … they were a sniper sharpshooter — stuff that civilians just don’t do — yes, it’s a hard transition,” Thompson says. “We have people that assist veterans on their resume to tweak it up and make it relatable, but there’s a lot of jobs out there in the military that aren’t (relatable to civilian work).”

Marquette’s involvement in the program aims to help military personnel on a personal level.

“Marquette’s participation in the … Yellow Ribbon enhancement is a means by which we … (provide) students who otherwise might not have been able to (attend Marquette) the opportunity to add their voices to our community and become the next generation of Marquette graduates ready in every way to ‘go and set the world on fire,’” Teerink says in an email.

One problem, however, is that the VA will not notify veterans of extra benefits they are not already aware of, Thompson says.

“So, what you don’t know is what you don’t know,” Thompson says. “Working (at the VA) I could not solicit any of that information. … I could see a veteran making a claim for a disability, but I could see his medical records and he’s got five others that I know he could get service connections for, but I couldn’t tell him about it.”

The Wisconsin Veterans Network is not mandated by law to help veterans apply for benefits and rather must refer them to the county veterans office that is mandated by law to help veterans with this task.

Access to an education could also allow veterans to build a support network to help them process things that happened during their service.

“I’ve had male veterans in their 60s … (talk about) when they were sexually assaulted in the military,” Thompson says. “Grown men crying in (my) office, …  (and) I’m not a counselor, but it had to come out. (They’re) 60, 70 years old, carrying this around all these years.”

Some veterans, however, do not receive assistance. The VA’s strict rules for who qualifies as a veteran prevent many from getting necessary aid, Thompson says.

“The VA only serves veterans that are honorably discharged, or re-serviced, but they have to have 180 days consecutive deployment,” Thompson says. “You could be in the reserves for 15 to 20 years and if you were never deployed for 180 days total in one deployment, you are not considered a veteran.”

In Thompson’s work with the Wisconsin Veteran Network, resources distributed to veterans include aid toward health care bills, assistance in working with landlords and information regarding their GI Bill.

“I do get new veterans that have just got out of the service and I always encourage them to use their GI Bill. Always,” Thompson says. “Don’t let it go to waste.”