Senator Webb, Senator Warner—it’s good to see you both again, and I’m honored to share this stage with you today. Let me also acknowledge:
Good morning, everyone, and welcome. History is about to repeat itself, and we are all privileged to be witnessing it. For that reason, I’m personally thrilled to be here today, and I thank Senator Jim Webb for his vision, his determination, and his leadership, and that of his colleagues in the congress, including then-Senator Barack Obama, for providing today’s young Veterans with this magnificent opportunity.
As we know, following World War II, returning Veterans leveraged their educational opportunity, the original GI Bill of 1944, into sustained economic growth for the United States. It catapulted our economy to world’s largest and us to leader of the free world.
Historian Milton Greenberg wrote, “by the time initial GI Bill eligibility for World War II Veterans expired in 1956, the United States was richer by 450,000 trained engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, and more than a million other college-educated individuals.” There are members of that great generation here today, who both benefited from that educational opportunity and who also gave back so much more in leadership for the Nation.
The post-9/11 GI Bill has every potential to equally impact the United States in a resoundingly positive way in this new century. By 2011, we expect to have placed nearly a quarter-million Americans into colleges and universities through this most comprehensive Veterans educational benefits package since the original GI Bill.
The courageous men and women, who wear our Nation’s uniforms, have shouldered heavy responsibilities for the past 8 years. The new GI Bill clearly demonstrates the Nation’s respect and appreciation for their service and sacrifice. It is also our commitment to them that they are our best hope for the future leadership of our country.
The maximum benefit allowsevery eligible Veteran and service member, active, guard, and reserve, the opportunity to receive a fully funded undergraduate education at any state college or university anywhere in the United States or its territories. It includes a monthly housing allowance, an annual book allowance, tutorial assistance, and educational tuition and fees. Eligible service members can also elect to transfer their benefits to their spouse or their children. What a tribute to the importance of families to military service.
In addition to public institutions, more than 1,100 private institutions have agreed to participate in the “Yellow Ribbon” program. This program permits eligible Veterans and service members to attend private colleges and universities, whose costs exceed the highest in-state rates at public undergraduate institutions. VA will match whatever is contributed by private colleges and universities, up to 50 percent of those total costs. We are grateful that so many schools have joined this effort, and we thank them for their support of Veterans.
Since the bill was signed in June, 2008, VA employees, led by Under Secretary Pat Dunne, Keith Wilson, Steph Warren, and Assistant Secretary Roger Baker, have worked under incredibly demanding time pressures to meet this 3 August, 2009, deadline. I am very proud of them for pulling together what many worried was not possible in so short a time. Their dedication has been outstanding, and their hard work will continue to pay dividends for Veterans for many decades to come.
To those who will be taking advantage of this educational opportunity—make it count. Make it count for all of us and for our country.
God bless our men and women in uniform; God bless our Veterans, and God bless our wonderful country.