Robyn A. Gilroy
With many veterans returning home to a sluggish economy, the Post 9/11 GI Bill has been the beacon that allows so many to transition from active military service to meaningful civilian employment. The flip side, as any veteran will tell you, is that the civilian world and the world of military service and veteran entitlement programs generally don’t speak the same language. Since its founding in 2008, Operation College Promise (OCP) has pursued its objective with singe-minded focus: being the bridge between veterans, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and higher education institutions.
August of 2014 Rhode Island became the first New England state to participate in the Certificate for Veterans’ Service Providers (CVSP) Program, designed to assist higher education institutions become familiar with the fine print details of Post 9/11 GI Bill funding and other programs and services to support a military-affiliated student. It also allows participants to get plugged in to the greater network of professionals dedicated to supporting those veterans and servicemembers who have sacrificed so much for us, here at home. As these individuals begin their transition to civilian life, they have needs which require a unique skill set, and that is where OCP comes in.
Sister Jane Gerety, Board Chair of the the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island (AICURI) and President of Salve Regina University, addressed CVSP’s participants, saying “Student veterans are increasingly seeking to attend Rhode Island’s eight private colleges and universities, and it is important that our institutions are equipped to educate and support these returning service veterans.” Her sentiment echoes that of U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) in saying, “Our duty to support and honor our veterans extends beyond health care. It is essential that we equip them with the professional development and educational opportunities they need to build and advance their post-military careers.”
In the last six years, OCP has offered this intensive two and a half day training program - essentially a crash course on the experiences of the militarycollege student population. What the CVSP gets right, among other things, is recognizing the need for higher education institutions to become familiar, and comfortable, with veterans. The CVSP covers a variety of topics, beginning with “Soldier for Life & Military 101: A Primer on Military Culture.” As a civilian married to U.S. Navy veteran, the value of this training topic is definitely not lost on me! In translating military experiences and training courses to higher education terms, one may find themselves in need of a decoder ring. Other modules address the current status of the ever-evolving Post 9/11 GI Bill, as well as connecting colleges and universities to the variety of services available to veterans in their state, so that they might, in turn, connect their student veterans to any and all services available to them.
Higher education institutions, when effectively wielding this skill set to better meet the needs of their veteran student population, are doing more than just honoring the debt we, as a nation, owe our military servicemembers and veterans. They’re also doing service to their communities, to businesses and to organizations in the public and private sectors, and to the nation at large. Military servicemembers bring to their civilian lives a rich set of values and ethics. By arming these individuals with the knowledge and skills to enter the workforce, their contributions to the nation will not end with their service contract. When student veterans thrive in higher education, everyone benefits.