Guest: State and schools should deliver on supporting veterans
Follow up on the Partners for Veteran Supportive Campuses from universities and the governor’s office has been virtually nonexistent, writes guest columnist John Tymczyszyn.
Special to The Times
AS of Aug. 1, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill has been in effect for four years. Nearly 1 million veterans have spent about $30 billion in federal benefits at universities around the country. Over the next four years even more veterans are expected to participate.
In 2009, then-Gov. Chris Gregoire and almost every university in the state created Partners for Veteran Supportive Campuses. The purpose of the partnership was to support veteran students and attract hundreds of millions of federal dollars to Seattle and Washington state.
The initiative started off like most. There were signing ceremonies, school and government officials shook hands and had photo ops with student veterans.
But since the 2009 ceremonies, follow up on this initiative from universities and the governor’s office has been virtually nonexistent. State government handed the ball to academia and never followed up.
Academia attracts few veterans. School officials across the state seem at a loss on how to implement the somewhat vague plan, disinterested in implementation or totally unaware that a plan even exists.
While I was studying at the Seattle University School of Law in 2011, one of my classmates, a student veteran who had been hit by an IED in Iraq, attempted suicide and subsequently dropped out.
School officials took quick action. The school took simple steps like appointing a school employee to help students process G.I. Bill paperwork. A popular professor helped students form a veterans club on campus. Seattle University held a simple but appreciated Veterans Day ceremony. The school then took an active interest in recruiting veteran applicants.
From a moral standpoint, school leaders wanted to assist student veterans, and from a practical standpoint they discovered a new source of applicants that the school had never tried to attract. Since 2009, the number of veterans at the school has increased from a few to almost 40.
While other colleges and universities provide support for veterans, they should follow Seattle University’s proactive approach.
Unlike most federal programs, where the federal government determines where money is spent, the individual veteran is the holder of this benefit. Each Post-9/11 veteran has access to about $100,000 to spend on tuition, housing and books. Over the coming years these veterans will decide if they spend this money in Washington state, spend it elsewhere or simply let the benefit expire.
The Seattle area is uniquely positioned as one of America’s urban areas with a dense population of military bases and veterans. Surrounding Navy bases and Joint Base Lewis-McChord have 50,000 active-duty service members. As the conflicts in the Middle East wind down and defense budgets are slashed, these veterans are exiting the military en masse.
Unfortunately, schools and government in Washington have been slow to react or implement any tangible measures to make veterans feel welcome on their campuses.
Over the past eight years Mike Gregoire, the former governor’s husband and an Army veteran, helped keep veterans issues in the spotlight.
I am still undecided about the current governor, Jay Inslee. He has an opportunity to display leadership on this issue and make a renewed effort on this program.
Every politician pays lip service to veterans a couple of times a year and lays a wreath at a cemetery. Their staff hurriedly position veterans wearing funny hats behind elected officials for a speech.
The prevailing attitude seems to be: Get the shot and move on. Implementing a plan is not as fun as a photo op, but before Inslee moves on, he and our state’s university presidents should start delivering on this plan. The Partners for Veteran Supportive Campuses is too good of an idea to abandon.
John Tymczyszyn is an attorney, Navy veteran and worked for the U.S. House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Committee from 2007-2009 and attended Seattle University School of Law on the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.