Shinseki Addresses Veterans
TAMPA (Nov. 6, 2009) – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki on Friday challenged military veterans now attending the University of South Florida to take advantage of the education opportunities presented to them under the new G.I. Bill, but said the true test of the program’s success will be when veterans graduate and can infuse the national economy with their unique skills and talents.
Shinseki appeared on campus as part of the Uniforms to Mortarboards conference which drew more than 300 higher education leaders and veterans’ advocates around the nation to USF. USF is the first university in the nation to strike an accord with the Department of Veterans Affairs in providing enhanced services for veterans under the new G.I. Bill.
“We need your talent, we need your energy,” Shinseki told students and participants. “We need your discipline and dedication back at work for the nation.”
The new G.I. bill is specifically designed to serve veterans who joined the armed forces after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. USF has about 950 students attending under the measure’s benefits, which became effective in August. In addition to having tuition, books and supplies covered by its benefits, veterans-turned-students also have a housing allowance – allowing many coming out of the military to become the first in their families to attend and graduate from college.
USF is the first university in the nation to create the VetSuccess program on campus, which allowed the VA to post a full-time liaison on campus to help students access academic, health and VA benefits and minimize delays in completing their education. While Shinseki commended the program, he said all of higher education must also keep in mind that to be successful, it is not enough for students to enroll – they must finish their education.
Shinseki noted that the G.I. Bill created after World War II was a transformative for the nation, opening up higher education to those who never could have afforded it and creating a workforce of hundreds of thousands of new professionals who solidified the nation as a global power.
The same could be true today, said USF President Judy Genshaft.
“Veterans Day is just around the corner, and while it is important we honor veterans in a ceremonial way it is also important we honor them by listening to their needs and creating pathways to success for them,” Genshaft said. “In doing so, we not only honor their service but we show we value them as talented human beings who have much to offer throughout their lifetime.
The VA estimates that some 150,000 veterans will enroll under the new G.I. Bill benefits by 2011 and that as many as 250,000 veterans will access benefits eventually.
“Today we are all focused on the front door,” Shinseki told the more than 300 participants at the conference. “I am focused on the graduation stage.”
And so are the students.
Four veterans now attending Florida higher education institutions agreed during a panel discussion that special services for veterans are needed, especially a centralized office that can help veterans navigate the bureaucracy of both the VA and their colleges and universities.
The University of South Florida System is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The system offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. It has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.