In 2008 the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was introduced with increased support for student veterans. As a result, more than 1 million veterans are enrolled in higher education. What are the critical issues of veterans transitioning from combat to the classroom? A discussion with Jared Lyon, President and CEO of Student Veterans of America.
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Interview recorded on October 21, 2016.
Traynham: Today, more than one million veterans are enrolled in some form of higher education thanks to the GI Bill. On this edition of "Comcast Newsmakers," we'll tackle the critical issues of veterans transitioning from combat to the classroom. Hello, everyone. I'm Robert Traynham, and joining me is Jared Lyon, the President and CEO of Student Veterans of America. Jared, welcome to the program.
Lyon: Thanks for having me, Robert.
Traynham: Thank you very much for your service, by the way. I know you served our country in uniform. We'll talk for a few moments about what the GI Bill specifically is designed to do.
Lyon: Yeah, absolutely. So the GI Bill is specifically designed to help returning service members and their family members return home after their commitment to our nation to receive an education.
Traynham: And speaking of education, does that mean a vocational school, a community college, four-year school, all of the above?
Lyon: Yeah. Really, Robert, it's all of the above. I mean, from vocation education to an associates degree all the way up to a PhD, veterans are pursing higher education at all levels.
Traynham: And how do veterans and their spouses and families know about these services? Is there almost like an exit interview? How does that work?
Lyon: Sure. So the Department of Defense, along with a bunch of other great federal agencies, provide transition assistance to transitioning service members where they explain these benefits, and really, the DoD has made awesome efforts to ensure that transitioning service members and their families are aware of these benefits.
Traynham: Jared, you and I know, and of course the viewers that are watching this program wherever they may be has read and knows that the transition from military life to civilian life often is bumpy with respect to a maze of paperwork and bureaucracy and so forth. How do you manage that transition on behalf of the soldiers?
Lyon: Yeah, so as service members are making that transition, it can be a real challenge for sure. I mean, one of the biggest things is trying to navigate that nuance of higher education and the bureaucracy of trying to figure out where your benefits are. We really start on the front end with trying to produce what we call informed consumers and help transitioning veterans make those informed decisions about not only where to go to school, but what they might decide to pursue.
Traynham: That was my next question, because I assume -- I don't know this, but I would assume that most -- some veterans may not know what their next career decision might be or the educational opportunities, so you help with that, as well.
Lyon: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, it's really one of these amazing things about education. Nearly 2/3 of veterans that are in school right now were first-generation college students, much like I was myself, so sort of making some of those decisions is the ability to transform their lives by harnessing that transformative power of higher education as a transition strategy for military through higher ed onto a successful civilian life.
Traynham: Does it matter what age group? Let's say hypothetically I am a veteran and I am late 40s, early 50s and I want to go to school. Does it matter?
Lyon: It does not matter. So, at point of transition, the veteran will have up to 15 years to use their education benefits.
Traynham: 15 years?
Lyon: Absolutely. And if you look at it on average, the average age of a veteran in higher education today is 27 years old, but folks are sometimes younger than that and sometimes, often cases much older. Believe it or not, a student veteran just graduated from the University of Southern California who was a World War II veteran just last semester, so it really runs the gamut.
Traynham: Jared, what motivates you to do this work? I mean, I know, obviously, you served in the Navy, but is it that or is there something more than this?
Lyon: You know, for me, Student Veterans of America was pivotal in my life. I separated from active duty in the Navy in 2005 and did a series of different things before I would up finishing my associate's degree at a community college while working full-time, and then transitioning to Florida State University as a transfer junior. When I showed up on campus in a sea of 18- to 22-year-olds, I felt a little disconnected and a little out of place at first, and SVA was there for me because it allowed me to interact with other veterans who had common shared experiences to my own, embrace some of that camaraderie that I missed from being in the military, and launched me to where I am now. So I feel like I'm repaying a debt that I'll likely always owe on.
Traynham: We've got about 45 seconds left. You mentioned something that I think is very important to kind of double back on, and that is the transition from military life to civilian life and some of the challenges and consequences and so forth that come along with that. It sounds like having a support group really, really helped you in many, many ways.
Lyon: Absolutely, and I think a lot of veterans find that. And if you notice, a lot of the newer veteran organizations that are out there in the country -- they're really embracing that idea of offering camaraderie, but as much challenges as veterans might face, it's actually rather remarkable to me that in higher ed, veterans are some of the most successful students in higher education. Not only are they succeeding in higher ed, but they're really thriving in higher ed.
Traynham: Your stories are very inspiring. Thank you very much, Jared. I really appreciate it.
Lyon: Thanks, Robert. I really appreciate it.
Traynham: Keep up the good work.
Lyon: Thank you, sir.
Traynham: And thank you for joining us for this edition of "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Robert Traynham. Have a great day. We'll see you next time. Bye-bye.