Help vets continue education

More than some states, Washington has made an effort to help its military veterans attend college and get into the careers that will help them build their lives following their service.

The state is one of 32 that waives the residency requirement for veterans, who often find themselves living far from home, so that they can take full advantage of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill’s in-state tuition benefit. Without that waiver vets would have to make up the difference between the benefit and out-of-state tuition or wait to establish residency.

More than 20,000 veterans are currently enrolled in colleges and universities in Washington, and more than half of them are enrolled in community colleges. But enrollment doesn’t always result in a degree. A study released last year by the Student Veterans of America found that only about 52 percent of veterans who enroll in post-secondary education finish with a degree.

These are students, who because of their service have delayed their own educations, often are supporting a family and may not have left their service with training that easily translates into a job. All the more reason to search out other ways in which to support them while they are in school and encourage them to complete their degree programs.

Two bills in the Legislature offer additional help for veterans and their families in that regard.

House Bill 1706, sponsored by Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, would allow universities, community colleges and technical colleges to waive building and activity fees for veterans receiving tuition assistance from the Defense Department’s Tuition Assistance Program. A recent change in federal law stripped the coverage of those fees, which pay for use of facilities such as libraries, computer labs and gyms, from the assistance program, so the state legislation seeks to restore that assistance.

House Bill 1052, sponsored by Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, himself a U.S. Navy veteran, would allow the spouses of those in active military service or the National Guard to register early for college or university courses. The importance of early registration, Hayes said, is that it gives military families priority to take full advantage of the 36 months of benefits the G.I. Bill allows them.

Both bills passed the House unanimously and are now in the Senate for consideration.

Another bill, sponsored by Stanford but which did not move forward in the House, would have established a Student Veterans Program to provide grants to colleges and universities to get certification as Veteran Supportive Campuses, which can provide programs for student services, peer mentoring and support, academic advising and other programs for veterans. The Legislature should bring this bill back for consideration next year.

For many veterans, enrollment in a college or a university can provide more than an education and a step toward a career. It can be key in providing veterans with the emotional support of peers and educators, a sense of purpose and responsibility and a connection with the larger community.

Assisting them in completing their education honors our debt to them and benefits us all.

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