Of all the benefits the GI Bill provided Stephen Safford, it was peace of mind that the Georgia Regents University senior said he found most rewarding.
The former Fort Gordon soldier, who served in the Army from 2006 to 2008, said that along with tuition assistance, the federal aid paid for living expenses, such as rent and food, and helped him focus on the career he wanted to pursue.
Having overcome a shattered ankle and herniated disc from his time in the military, Safford, 31, chose to study kinesiology. Next summer, he hopes to get his bachelor’s degree and then begin the school’s doctoral program for physical therapy.
“It helped me successfully transition from active-duty military to full-time college student by providing less stress outside the classroom,” said Safford, who received the GI Bill from January 2010 to October 2013. “It gave me guidance, the ability to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”
Last month, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs celebrated 70 years of investment in the education and economic prosperity of America’s service members and veterans.
The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, as the GI Bill was known, was enacted June 22, 1944. The law provided a wide range of benefits for veterans returning from World War II, including low-cost home loans, education and vocational training.
The original GI Bill was heralded as a success and a major contributor to America’s stock of human capital that sped long-term economic growth across the nation, according to the VA.
It reached nearly half of the 16 million World War II veterans, and today the VA is paying out more than $41 billion in benefits since August 2009 to fund the education of 1.2 million people. The agency said new online tools on the GI Bill Web site help veterans learn more about their vocational aptitudes and select an educational institution and training program right for them.
VA is committed to ensuring today’s veterans have every opportunity to achieve their goals, and the GI Bill is one big way in which we are delivering on that commitment,” said Allison A. Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary of benefits.
Safford said it was not so much cost, but the location and staff, that made him choose GRU, which has the most GI Bill recipients in the area (986), to cash in his benefits. Besides waiving all institutional fees for active-duty students, the school is near his home and has advisers devoted to helping incoming military students obtain a quality education and survive financially at the same time.
“Through my adviser’s and the GI Bill’s help, I realized just how valuable an education is,” Safford said.
Marion Wilson, the program director of military services at GRU, said that the GI Bill not only helps the school’s veterans graduate with a degree with little to no debt but also benefits classmates and faculty members.
Wilson, an adjunct professor of communications for three years, said veterans’ leadership skills have helped some students become more vocal, assertive, proud of and interested in the military.
“The GI Bill has been an educational equalizer for society in the United States, because with it, higher education is no longer just for the affluent,” Wilson said. “This program allows individuals from all backgrounds to pursue and obtain a higher education. It is a win-win for all involved.”