Veterans groups say the Post-9/11 GI Bill has given hundreds of thousands of veterans a chance to go to college. Now, they want to make sure those students are also getting the resources they need to succeed.
Advocates lobbied congressional staffers Thursday for federal grants to build college campus veterans centers, ensuring an extra level of scholastic and emotional support for transitioning service members.
"We know this kind of support can have a big impact on student degree completion and [college] retention rates," said Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the American Legion's education division. "It's not just a place on campus for veterans to vent. It can become a one-stop shop for all the services they need."
For the last four years, the Education Department has given limited grants to college campuses for the launch and upkeep of veterans centers at colleges and universities, but those authorities expired in December.
Supporters want to renew and expand those programs.
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., last session would have allowed 30 new grants of up to $500,000 each for the work, but the bill failed to gather enough support to become law. Staffers said she'll introduce similar legislation in the weeks to come.
Walter Tillman, program manager at Student Veterans of America, said schools and private-sector groups have helped fill some of the void. Last month, The Home Depot Foundation announced plans to expand their vet center assistance grants to 50 more campuses, at a cost of about $400,000.
But supporters want more federal support, especially given the small cost of the support programs compared to the veterans education benefit.
Frankel's plan would cost around $15 million over four years. More than $30 billion has been spent on the Post-9/11 GI Bill since 2009, according to VA officials.
"For a lot of schools, this is just seed money to start the work," said Ryan Gallucci, deputy director of national veterans services for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "We're already seeing student veterans organizing on campus and in their communities. This can get them started."