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Education Is Key to Success, VA Secretary Says

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2001 – "Education! Education! Education! Education is the key to success," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi exclaimed.

"Young men and women leaving the military who go to school and get that education will succeed in this information age," he said during a recent interview at VA's Washington headquarters. "The greatest social program in the history of this country was the World War II GI Bill." The nation should take a chapter out of that great social program and bring it to modern days, the secretary said.

"It's disheartening to know that young men and women join the military because, in part, they'd like to go back to school, but they can't because of the cost," Principi said. "You know, no other program in America requires anybody to contribute anything to get an educational benefit -- but we ask our military men and women to do so." GI Bill benefits cost service members $1,200.

Ironically, less than 50 percent of service members who contribute money to the GI Bill use it after leaving the military, he noted. The problem isn't laziness or a loss of desire to go to school, but not being able to afford to go to school, Principi said.

He said the monthly GI Bill stipend is insufficient. He pointed out that the cost of a good education has risen dramatically since the Montgomery GI Bill became law in 1984, and the nature of education has changed.

Principi told a story of a young soldier he met on the demilitarized zone in Korea. The soldier told him how happy he was to be going home and going to school for a six-month intensive computer training program.

"How much do you think the program will cost," Principi asked the soldier.

"About $5,000," the soldier responded.

"He didn't realize that he would get a certain amount per month for only the six months," Principi said. "He thought he'd earned $25,000 in educational benefits, and he'd be able to go to school, and the school would be paid for. He'd served his country; he'd contributed $1,200.

"I had to tell him he was only going to get about $500 per month -- maybe $2,500 or $3,000 total -- because his Montgomery GI Bill payments are parceled out so much per month for 36 months," he said. "This soldier is going to have to find the money elsewhere to pay the difference.

"He is a perfect example of a service member whose needs are not being met," Principi said.

The secretary favors accelerated payments as a possible solution. He also advocates allowing GI Bill benefits to be transferred to dependent spouses or children if the service member decides not to attend school.

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