Education for vets
University of Idaho President Tim White and his wife, Karen, plan to send out more than 5,000 letters this month to every college and university president in the nation.
They’re asking White’s fellow campus leaders to adopt programs similar to Idaho’s Operation Education, which pays for tuition, housing, child care and other costs for disabled veterans and their spouses. It’s designed for veterans of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Disabled veterans vitally need this program. Today soldiers are more likely than in previous wars to survive their injuries and come home to live with permanent disabilities. In World War II, for example, 30 percent of soldiers died of their injuries, reports the New York Times. Now, thanks to superior protective gear and better battlefield care, only 9 percent of injured Iraq troops die.
When these soldiers arrive home, they discover that veterans’ education benefits don’t stretch as far as they did in the past. Today’s G.I. bill pays around $38,700 for a college education. But the cost of four years at the University of Washington or Washington State University now exceeds $65,000, and veterans must often take out large school loans to cover the difference.
When the Greatest Generation sailed off to fight World II, American civilians made concrete, daily sacrifices to support their effort. They grew victory gardens, bought war bonds and submitted to gasoline rationing.
Now we struggle to find adequate ways to express our support of the troops. Saying a simple “thank you” rarely seems like enough.
The University of Idaho program enlists grateful alumni, as well as other individuals, corporations and foundations, to help pay for Operation Education. The program is designed to accept three to four applicants a year for a maximum of about 20 students.
It’s already paying off. Tom Prewitt injured his knees in the Army and lives with pain every day. Last May he became Operation Education’s first graduate. He now works as a wildlife biologist for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in Plummer, Idaho.
With a recent report showing that one in four American homeless are veterans, programs like Operation Education are needed more than ever. The Idaho effort not only fights homelessness, but provides valuable credentials for a new life.
May the country’s college presidents open the Whites’ letter with receptive hands. American college campuses have the power to help veterans transcend their disabilities and give all Americans a significant, tangible way to convey their gratitude.