By Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod
My intent for this commentary on March 19, 2013, the 10th anniversary of the onset of the Iraq war, is not to point political blame or to opine whether the war was a good idea. Rather, this commentary is intended to highlight how Congress must work toward bettering the lives of veterans by supporting their educational endeavors.
Studies show that one fundamental component to living a better life is by having an education. Acquiring an education can equate to a better paying job and may make the difference in employment prospects during tough economic times. Currently, the unemployment rate among younger veterans (18-24 years old) is higher than the national average. Nearly one in 10 ex-service members of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is in search of a job. This statistic is higher for women veterans, according to figures released this month by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In raw numbers, 203,000 post-9/11 veterans were unemployed in February. Perhaps, if returning veterans had job training or were able to earn an associate's, a bachelor's, a master's or even a Ph.D., the unemployment rate would be lower.
Automatic trigger cuts - known as the sequester - have caused multiple branches of the military to end tuition assistance for personnel as part of the services' budget cuts. This will not help our troops gain an education. With further talks on Capitol Hill centered on reducing our deficit and potentially cutting more programs, it is important that we promote and expand on the programs that help veterans attain an education. The GI bill has done wonders for many veterans and their families by helping cover tuition and costs associated with achieving higher education. Often, many veterans enter college campuses that do not have an adequate support system in place to assist them with educational and career development. Presently there are no existing programs that help the Office of Veterans' Affairs with resources to reach out and identify ex-service members seeking to enroll or who are currently enrolled in colleges that serve an underrepresented population because of lack of funding from the federal government.
It is a tragedy that the post-9/11 veteran population has a higher unemployment rate. Serving on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, it is my goal to lower the veteran unemployment rate by promoting education as one remedy to this abysmal statistic. To help with this issue, I will be introducing on this 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, the Veteran Excellence through (VET) Education Act - my first bill as a member of Congress.
This bill creates a competitive grant program aimed at helping college campuses that serve a diverse student body to provide academic and related support services for all enrolled veterans to achieve their educational and career goals. Nearly every university in my district and the surrounding area will qualify for these grants. Colleges and universities that would benefit from this bill include: Cal State San Bernardino, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Fullerton, University of La Verne, Loma Linda University, and many more across California and the country.
Education is a future investment. It is our obligation to assist veterans with job training and economic opportunity in return for their service to our country.
Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Montclair, represents California's 35th District in Congress.