Education Is Key to Success, VA Secretary Says

March 15, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “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.

Related site of interest: VA Home Page