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GI BILL® & VA Educational Benefits – What to Know & How to Go - Part 2/2

Education & Training

Continued from Part 1

PRINCIPAL #3 Capital Astuteness

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As a GI BILL® recipient, you will receive a robust monthly stipend to use towards living expenses. This amount can be upwards of $1,000 to $4,000+ per month, depending on where the IHL is located. In my experience it has led to some student veterans treating it merely as “icing on the cake,” for example teaming up to rent a four-bedroom penthouse equipped with an expansive outdoor terrace in a building with all the bells and whistles that you could imagine for a whopping $6,000 per month.

In contrast I have seen firsthand veterans who used their monthly stipend wisely – saving or investing a portion of it, living modestly either with roommates or even with family rent-free. This lies on a spectrum and in the spirit of moderation a happy medium should be sought after. That said, I am still very much a proponent of it being closer to saving and investing rather than splurging and indulging.

This carries even greater weight when considering post-graduate employment. There is no disputing the strong evidence showing the tremendous success of student veterans in higher education, thanks largely to groups like Student Veterans of America (SVA). For instance the SVA recently teamed up with the National Student Clearinghouse to evaluate outcomes of the GI BILL® and the retention, completion and graduation rates as well as employability of student veterans. That said, while the majority of veterans are able to secure meaningful employment and provide for themselves and their family immediately after completing their degree, the amount of money they will earn for their first civilian job out of college tends to be less than the amount of money they were making from their GI BILL®’s monthly housing stipend when taxes are factored in.

PRINCIPLE #4 Your Network is Your Networth

With over 55,000+ veteran service organizations (VSOs) across the nation, it may feel overwhelming to even think about which ones take advantage of. There are only a handful that have made an impact nationally in becoming household names. I’m going to share with you what I told the thousands of student veterans I assisted: only use those VSOs you will make a commitment to. If you do not treat it as a professional opportunity, you could do more harm than good to your reputation. After all the military community, both across the nation as well as in large and small cities alike, is a close knit one.

Most VSOs fall under three categories: career readiness/professional development, mental health/personal counseling, and community building. It is vital to determine which category is most important to you at any given time. It’s worth noting that VSOs often collaborate with one another on events and services. The category you prioritize may change depending on what goals you are working on at any given point in time, but you can expect to run into the same people more than once. Networking presents itself in many ways. An example would be a national VSO like The Mission Continues, which is dedicated to beautification projects and community building.

While working at an IHL I heard networking success stories where veterans met professionals in their desired career field while sparking up conversation, as they had their sleeves rolled up, digging holes to plant a new flowerbed. Of course there are plenty of other VSOs that could provide tremendous networking opportunities such as American Corporate Partners (ACP). The key takeaway is this: regardless of what academic major, point in transition, and/or employment status you currently are in, you could always benefit from using the services VSOs offer to bolster your network.

PRINCIPLE #5 Become a Master Juggler

Being a non-traditional student, chances are veterans have a number of priorities including family obligations, personal responsibilities, military reserve duties and active full-or-part-time jobs. While the GI BILL® affords veterans the financial support to not have to work in order to support themselves, many choose to work while studying anyway. This means they have to master the art of juggling (figuratively speaking of course). The good news is there are support systems to lean on to reduce stressors and cope well when the intensity of the juggling increases. One piece of advice I used to tell all veterans was to bond with their professors.

Having served as an Adjunct Professor, I know firsthand the importance of students making an effort to connect with their Professors, particularly at private institutions where class sizes tend to be smaller and more intimate. This rule does not apply strictly to military veterans but I do think it is even more important for such non-traditional populations to connect with their professors and provide them with some idea of who they are and their life experiences, so that if they need to be a few minutes late to class on occasion, the Professor has some context as to why. In my experience, both in talking to professors as well as student veterans in my own courses, veterans offer unique perspectives due largely to their life experiences. Professors often rave about having critical thinkers in their classes as it enhances the quality of classroom discussion.

PRINCIPLE #6 Pay it Forward

In the spirit of “vets helping vets” it remains paramount, as previous generations of veterans have done, to remain connected with your alma mater and the various VSOs you may have benefited from during your transition. That way, other veterans who follow in your footsteps receive guidance and mentorship as they maneuver through this new, unfamiliar terrain. Think back to the feelings you experienced when you were starting out on this new chapter of your life and reflect on what tips and pointers you wish you knew, to share in turn with another brother or sister in arms. It’s important to bear in mind the power of networking, regardless of what stage one is currently at, whether it is in their academic pursuits or professional career. Taking a fellow veteran and placing them under your wing is not only important from a giving-back standpoint but also is reciprocal in nature through the benefit received –a sense of gratitude and fulfillment.

Rather than go through all the changes made by the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 (“Forever GI BILL®”), I’m sharing a summary put together by Student Veterans of America (SVA), the major advocacy group and driving force behind it:

I hope these principles prove to be helpful as you begin your next journey, putting to good use your well-deserved GI BILL®/VA educational benefits, to secure the civilian job of your dreams! Feel free to message me directly with any questions you have!

I leave you with SVA’s motto:

“Yesterday’s Warriors, Today’s Scholars, Tomorrow’s Leaders”

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