|WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2009 – More
college-educated professionals will enter the next
generation's professional work force as a result of the
Post-9/11 GI Bill, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K.
Shinseki said this week at the American Legion's 91st
National Convention in Louisville, KY.
Shinseki lauded the organization's efforts in advocating the
new legislation, just as it fought for the original GI Bill
more than 65 years ago.
“Just as you were responsible for the passage of the
original GI Bill in 1944, your commitment here was
instrumental, yet again, in getting this 9/11 GI Bill
through the Congress,” Shinseki said.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect Aug. 1, and with its
expanded benefits and the option of transferring benefits to
family members, it's likely to affect the country the way
the original GI Bill did in 1944, he said.
Between 1944 and 1956, millions of veterans took advantage
of educational benefits provided by the original bill and
helped to fill the nation's work force with qualified and
trained professionals. Although they no longer wore the
military uniform, the veterans' contributions to the country
weren't any less significant, he said.
“Returning World War II veterans leveraged the educational
opportunities they had under the original GI Bill into
sustained economic growth for the nation, catapulting the
nation into the world's largest economy [and into a position
of] leadership in the free world,” he said. “Our country
became richer by 450,000 trained engineers, 240,000
accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 66,000
doctors, 22,000 dentists and [by] millions of other
college-educated veterans who went on to lead our great
country in the second half of the 20th century.
“This new Post-9/11 GI Bill has the potential to impact the
country in the same way, thanks to your leadership and the
leadership in country,” he added. “You've been our eyes and
ears for identifying needs for veterans.”
The education opportunities also will help VA in its
struggle to end homelessness among veterans, which, Shinseki
said, also will have an indirect but positive effect on a
host of other issues. Veterans lead the nation in
homelessness, he said, and also are ranked among the highest
groups in the country for depression and substance abuse.
In 2003, more than 195,000 veterans were without homes.
Shinseki pointed to a lack of education and employment
opportunities, as well as mental-health and substance-abuse
issues, as the main reasons for the over-representation of
Today, VA estimates that 131,000 veterans are homeless, and
Shinseki said he's determined to get them off the streets
within the next five years. His department and President
Barack Obama's administration are moving in the right
direction to tackle the issue, he said, but he noted it
won't be easy.
“We're moving in the right direction to remove this block
from all of our consciences, and are committed to ending
homelessness,” he said. “No one that has served the nation
as we have should live without care and without hope. I know
there are no absolutes in life, ... but I also know that if we
don't put a big target out there, we won't get our best
Homelessness is the last stop in an unfortunate road for
many veterans, the secretary said. “To do this well, we'll
have to attack the entire downward spiral that ends in
homelessness,” he said. “We must offer education, we must
offer jobs, we must treat depression and we must treat
substance abuse, [and] we must offer safe housing [for
homeless veterans]. We must do it all.”
The Post-9/11 GI Bill may not deliver an immediate impact on
the homeless issue and others that veterans may face, but
education is a long-term investment that will ensure many of
their futures, he said.
“This investment in America's future will go on for decades
to come,” he said. “I told you what happened the first time
we did this: thousands of trained engineers, scientists,
doctors, dentists, accountants [and] teachers. Lightning is
about to strike twice. And those who've answered our
nation's call are going to be benefited into being leaders
for our country in the 21st century through this program.”